August 25, 2016 – Partly cloudy, 90 degrees
Miles Today: 28
Miles to Date: 15,105
States to Date: 41
Birmingham: I was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see.
Today I got so lost I could not tell north from south, right from left. Clouds obscured the sun. The city has numbered streets in all directions. What’s the point of a sign telling me I’m at the intersection of 8th Street W and 4th Court W when I’m supposed to be Northeast? Eventually I got my bearings, found my way and met wonderful people who did not discredit my being late.
I began well enough, visiting my friends at TRO, the Birmingham branch of the firm I worked for in Boston. Then I pedaled more than ten miles to complete the five-mile distance to the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. After lunch I got back on track; toured the Sloss Furnaces, an incredible preservation of the city’s industrial past; went to the 16th Street Baptist Church, where my body trembled contemplating the explosion; and took the Civil Rights walk from Kelly Ingram Park to City Hall.
There, the lost and found metaphor sunk in. This city, the most segregated and entrenched bastion of Jim Crow in our country, was lost for so long. Yet, today Birmingham owns, even celebrates, its pivotal position in the struggle for racial equality and justice. That is not to say that opportunity is equally distributed. But how Birmingham acknowledges where it was and how it changed is a credit to all sides.
I pedaled to Mary’s House on the far west side (which by then I could navigate quite well) and enjoyed a community supper with Shelley and Jim Douglass, long time Catholic Worker activists, and other folks from the Ensley neighborhood. Shelley arranged for me to sleep at the local rectory, where I stayed up too late talking with Rev. Justin Nelson, a fascinating priest from India whose vocation led him to pastoring a pair of African-American Catholic Churches in Alabama.