An Outdoor Afro Remembers a Visit to Birmingham
My name is Nkrumah Frazier. I am a member of the Outdoor Afro Leadership team. Recently I was perusing some older pictures on my computer and stumbled across some pictures taken back in July of 2007 when my wife (Chelsea) and I reluctantly dropped our kids off at my mother’s house and hit the road headed to Birmingham, AL. We did not have a weekend worth of activities, sites and destinations already planned out. We had only decided to go a few days prior. I won’t attempt to talk about everything that we did on the trip rather I’ll highlight the things that were the most memorable for me. With this month being Black History Month I thought that it would be rather poignant to write about this experience.
On the way to Birmingham we stopped just south of Tuscaloosa, AL at Moundville Archeological Park. The Moundville site was once a settlement of Mississippian Indians on the Black Warrior River in central Alabama. At its most glorious, Moundville was a three hundred acre village built on a bluff overlooking the river. It was once a populous town, as well as a political center and a religious center. In size and complexity Moundville was second only to the Cahokia site in Illinois.
Moundville has been well taken care of over the years and was a really cool place to visit. There was an added bonus in the form of a series of nature trails in the form of raised boardwalks through the forests and overlooking the river surrounding the raised mounds. We made our way through the walkways soaking up all that the Alabama wilderness had to offer or as much as could be gleamed from the completely unnatural boardwalks jutting out from the landscape. Regardless of how unnatural the boardwalks were they were well done and lent themselves to a really wonderful time.
Alabama is a land of large beautiful rolling hills. We stopped at a site overlooking a river that displayed some of those beautiful hills and the awesome power that water is capable of producing. From there we drove on in to Birmingham. We found and visited the Vulcan statue; the largest cast iron statue in the world and city symbol of Birmingham. The statue reflects the city’s roots in the iron and steel industry. The 56-foot tall statue depicts the Roman god Vulcan, god of the fire and forge. It was created as Birmingham’s entry for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (1904 World’s Fair) in St. Louis, Missouri. It is the seventh-tallest free-standing statue in the United States.
That evening we heard on the radio that the Ebony Black Family Reunion Tour just happened to be Birmingham that weekend. The event was emceed by Tom Joyner Morning Show’s Ms. Dupree. We were blessed to see performances from the likes of Cupid (at the time his song “Cupid Shuffle” was just hitting the airwaves, but we knew nothing about him), Glenn Lewis, Cherrelle, MC Lyte and Whodini free of charge. It was a delight getting to see Cherrelle perform after growing up listening to her songs on the radio. At one point she was joined on stage by a young girl of about 8 or 9 from the audience. She talked about and displayed the not so subtle differences in the way the youth of today dance and the way it was done “back in the day”. The young girl danced her heart out and once she was finished Cherrelle attempted to show and explain to the girl and the audience that you don’t have to work so hard when you dance. She said that the way that girls and young ladies bounce and gyrate really hard and fast isn’t necessary. All that’s needed is a subtle and gentle swaying of the hips in tune with the music to achieve the desired effect!
MC Lyte then took full control of the stage. She came out and put on a display of lyrical prowess, stage presence and hip hop history that the overwhelming majority of the wanna be MCs on the radio today dream that they had and left the audience begging for more. Afterwards, Whodini stepped on stage and tore the proverbial roof off. I don’t feel I need to say anything else about that part of the show because, well…… it was Whodini! For the young people that may read this and wonder who Whodini is; I suggest you go and do a little research and then re-read this part of the story. Growing up poor in rural south Mississippi I was always behind the times when it came to music. Even the radio stations always seemed to be a little behind when it came to playing the latest music. Large musical acts never came to south Mississippi and even if they did I would not have been allowed to go. This concert to me was the embodiment of my childhood love of hip hop that I never got to experience and I’m thankful that I had this opportunity to see some of the greats of the business.
The next morning Chelsea and I woke up and wanted to do a bit more sightseeing before heading home. Chelsea being the history buff had a surprise in store for me. She wanted to see the famed Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. We drove around until we found the church, parked our car got out and walked the grounds. The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was organized as the first black church to organize in Birmingham in 1873. During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the church served as an organizational headquarters, site of mass meetings and rallying point for blacks protesting racism in Birmingham and throughout the South. On Sunday, September 15, 1963, members of the Ku Klux Klan bombed the church killing four young girls–Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair–and injuring 22 others.
Adjacent to the church is a memorial park. This park was a memorial to the first the first American sailor killed in World War I, Mr. Osmond Kelly Ingram. In this park are statues commemorating the sights, sounds and activities of the civil rights movement in Birmingham. There were scenes portraying young black men and women being suppressed. One particular statue was of a young man being “arrested” by a policeman while simultaneously a police dog appears to be ready to bite down into this young man’s flesh.
Another set of statues consisted of police dogs in the act of lunging and barking at an “assailant” on either side of the circular walkway portraying a scene in which the dogs are attacking an invisible assailant standing on the walkway. I walked and stood in the middle of the statue and felt in awe of the power and majesty of the dogs that the statue is portraying. Immediately I began to try to imagine the fear that would undoubtedly arise within me if I were to be put in this situation with live dogs in real life.
There was a set of sculptures portraying a boy and girl being blasted by a water cannon. The sculptures of the boy and girl seem to portray the emotion that must have been experienced during such an event. Other sculptures include one of Dr. Martin Luther King and one of 3 preachers kneeling in prayer; a near by plaque reads “Place of Revolution and Reconciliation”. After leaving this memorial park we got back in our car and started the journey home. On the outskirts of town we looked back to see the Vulcan statue towering over the city bidding us adieu.
Having grown up in south Mississippi, I remember going to stores that wouldn’t allow black people to use the restroom. I remember hearing the “N” word being used in a very derogatory manner. I’ve heard stories and actually seen how ugly hatred based simply on the color of a person’s skin can really be. I remember thinking about the struggles that took place so that I’d be afforded the opportunity to walk among a memorial depicting this not so pretty side of human nature rather than having to live it first hand. I can’t help but think that the younger generations really don’t have a clue what it was like during those struggles.
For that reason I’m proud to be an Outdoor Afro. I’m proud to be an ambassador for my people. I am proud to be a part of the effort to reconnect; and in some cases to connect, black people to the natural world. But in some ways this effort is about more than just connecting black people to nature. This is about removing some of the misunderstanding, the misconceptions that some individuals have about black people. This organization serves to point out that black people are after all just people and in that light Outdoor Afro serves to bring us all closer together by showing us that we are all relatively the same. After all; the conversation we are attempting to have is merely a focused conversation; not an exclusive one.
Additional photos from this trip can be viewed in the Facebook album that was created.