Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Whispers In The Deep South: Many Rivers To Cross

Augustus & Viola Wooley (Woods) with their son Augustus Jr.
After viewing episode four of Many Rivers to Cross tonight, I just had to finish penning this blog post.  This episode made me think of my husband's family, my family. It's interesting that through marriage, families are intertwined.Your family becomes my family and so on and so forth..

My recent visits with my mother in law have been very interesting. They usually are. I asked her what life was like growing up in Alabama in the1950's. For many years I've heard stories about her parents, Augustus WOOLEY and Viola WOODS. I remember her father, my husband's Grandad, so many years ago. Unfortunately I never got to meet his grandmother, Viola. She passed away shortly before I came into the family. They were both from Alabama. The cities of Johns and Calera. Augustus left Birmingham in about 1956, moving his family to Minneapolis, MN. His father Berry WOOLEY had also left Birmingham and came to Minnesota earlier. With family still living in Birmingham and Jasper. He would drive the family from Minnesota to Birmingham, Alabama and back again to visit family, only stopping for gas. No stops to eat in those days. Viola cooked before they left home and brought the food with. Nearly a twenty hour drive back then. After viewing Many Rivers To Cross and hearing about the "Negro Motorist Green Book" I now understand why stops were few to none.
Augustus Wooley

I thought about my recent trip to Alabama to visit my husband's family. Which gave me some insight to what life must of been like for so many who came from the south. This was my first time visiting Alabama and I was excited to see where my husband's family had lived for generations as well as meet family. I had always wondered why his grandparents left Birmingham in the 1950's to come to Minnesota..the longer that I spent time in the south I began to get a better understanding of why they left.

Viola Woods Wooley
I visited the Tuskegee University Institute. Home of Booker T. Washington. I was so amazed by this man and his educational history. The red bricks. Wow, such a rich history. I was in awe as we passed by the massive cotton fields. Cotton as far back as my eyes could see. A sight that I've never seen before. I could see the ancestors in the field and hear their whispers. Something that gave me a slight chill. Alabama was the south, life was what it was. And you knew your place. Segregation. Plain and simple.White and Colored drinking fountains, Everything divided by color. Something that I've tried to imagine, but just couldn't seem to grasp. A  visit to the Civil Rights Museum  gave me a better understanding of segregation and so much more. I left thinking to myself, Why wouldn't you want to leave the south back then? I wiped a tear from my eye as we crossed the street to see the16th street Baptist Church. The church that was bombed  in 1963, four young girls died. Again, I felt a slight chill.
Arlington Antebellum Plantation-Birmingham, AL
 I was in awe as I viewed this beautiful yet enormous home, a plantation called Arlington. It sat, like a watch guard over the city, surrounded by small houses, our family lived only blocks away. I couldn't help but think of the enslaved ancestors who once lived on this plantation. I wondered  what happened to them after slavery ended. I could feel their presence. How could I be here in this place and not think of them and all that they endured. I wondered what their life was like, were my ancestors slaves here? I thought about it the rest of the day and night. Slavery, a reality that was everyday life. I felt a strange chill..cold. This visit was bitter sweet.

"Lifting The Veil"  Monument at Tuskegee University


© 2013 Denise Muhammad


  1. Denise, this blog is so touching. The strength of our ancestors never cease to amaze me. I can't imagine what it's like to travel for 24 hours and not be able to stop. Yet so many of our people did it. Your description of the cotton field was very vivid, I felt like I was there. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story.

    1. Cotton was an amazing sight to see. Thanks for your comment :)

  2. Denise this was Great. I remember when I went back to Alabama with 2nd Eyes. It's just something when you go back and place your place in their place.......

  3. Thank you, I was right there with you!

  4. Reading your post & being reminded of what my year of living in WILKES County GA was like. Though I loved the open land & getting to know my Family, it was the reality of having to see Archibald WINGFIELD'S Plantation EVERYDAY to get my son to daycare that drove me nuts. EVERY morning & evening. It was the fact this was "normal" to everyone but me & being aware I was considered "different" due to my northern upbringing & technology skills. I was "allowed" to have an office on the square & a home in the historic area. Though my children will ALWAYS know where they're from & what's baked-into their freedom, I NEVER want the presence of a Plantation & relegated status to be their "normal". 1 year & I had to BOUNCE!:)

  5. When we think about what those before us had to endure, we see their courage, creativity and strength.

  6. I can recall riding to Georgia with my grandpa and seeing big crosses on hills in certain places. I was to young to remember exactly but never got it outta my head. Also thatwe never stopped in certain areas too, especially smaller towns, not even for gas. Always kept full tank when making that trip. To hear of history is different than actually feeling and having a front row seat. Touches you in a way thats hard to explain.