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