Day 1: December 22, 2007
Selma to Montgomery
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How's this for a great way to start a Christmas road trip? As usual, I checked with before hitting the road and had made note of W. C. Rice's Cross Garden near Prattville, Alabama. Mr. Rice passed away in 2004 and I can only assume he's now in Heaven where it's cool, cool, cool.

Once I was off of the expressway I intended to stay and, with the schedule in good shape, I headed west on AL-21. I had been toying with the idea of visiting Selma. I quit toying. Of course, many key events of the Civil Rights struggle happened near here but two of the biggest were the Selma to Montgomery Voter Registration march and the Bloody Sunday that preceded it. On March 7, 1965 some 600 marchers were stopped at the Edmund Pettus bridge as they headed for Montgomery. In a violent confrontation that started at the bridge, marchers were beaten by state troopers who pursued them back to their churches and homes. On March 21, about 4,000 people crossed the bridge and, over the next five days, many of them walked the 54 miles to the capital in Montgomery. Today, the National Voting Rights Museum helps preserve that story. A growing wall of notes, written by people who were actually there, stands near the entrance. Artifacts and photographs fill the several rooms of the museum. Even the Pettus bridge almost seems part of a display when viewed through a museum window.

Martin Luther King, Jr., helped lead the march and Brown's Chapel, where the march started, now has a prominent bust of him out front. I took my pictures of bust and building and headed back toward the car. On the way, I passed a young man in the middle of the street and we exchanged greetings. Then, from behind me I heard, "Want to take my picture?" I turned around. "Want to put me in the history book?" "Sure," I said and Eric pushed back his hood and struck a pose. Might be the best picture of the day.

US-80, between Selma and Montgomery, is an All American Road; Not because it offers great scenery but because of what took place there in 1965. It's really a fairly mundane stretch of divided four-lane highway. In 2006, the Lowndes Interpretive Center opened on the site of the tent city where many African-American tenant farmers lived after being evicted for attempting to vote.

I did find one stretch of old two-lane running beside the new divided road and I did make it to the capitol. When the marchers reached there in 1965, state troopers once again stood in their way and Governor Wallace refused to accept their petition. But, in the end, that made little difference and, on August 6, 1965 President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act that ended the heavy handed techniques that had prevented southern blacks from becoming registered voters.

Not far from the capitol is Oakwood Cemetery where the most celebrated "resident" is Hank Williams. His wife Audrey is buried beside him. Hank's ten #1s, along with a couple he recorded as Luke the Drifter, are carved on the base of his monument. Vandals have stolen a pair of marble vases and some concrete cowboy boots and that's what prompted Junior to put the "Please..." stone between the graves. Not, as I implied in a previous version of this paragraph, the bottles in the foreground of the last photo. All three Hanks are, or were, as likely as anyone to empty a whiskey bottle in a cemetery.

No photos are allowed at the Hank Williams museum although there is lots of photo worthy stuff on display including the powder blue Caddy that Hank died in. News to me was the fact that Hank. Jr., drove the car while attending high school. A few blocks away, pictures are permitted of a life-sized bronze Hank sporting seasonally correct neckwear.

I always liked the Eagle's recording of "Seven Bridges Road" but didn't equate the song with anything in the real world. Without really thinking about it, I guess I figured the seven bridges were some sort of metaphor. Then, several years ago, in a bar in New Orleans, a guy playing and singing there told me it was about the road that led to Hank Williams grave. That made it a whole lot more interesting and I put a little effort into learning that, although it didn't lead to his grave, it was a real road in Montgomery, Alabama, where Hank is buried. I also learned that it wasn't written by an Eagle but by a guy who actually spent some time in Montgomery and on Seven Bridges Road. That guy is Steve Young and you can catch his version of the song here. Some comments from Steve are included in the Wikipedia entry here.

Light was fading and there was a light mist when I drove the road. I may try to get some better pictures when I leave in the morning but maybe not. This picture certainly looks like one of the visions I've had of Seven Bridges Road over the years.

And now some nighttime shots. Nobles used to be the Elite Cafe where Hank Williams last performed. Take a look inside if you'd like. When I arrived there was a car parked atop the yellow line in the middle of the street. I had assumed the car was broken down but when I left a whole fleet was parked there. I wonder if the practice will catch on in other state capitals. There is a good looking tree about a block from Nobles and here's a shot of the one at the capitol with the lights on.

The last picture is of the great neon in front of the motel where I'm staying. It's just a few miles from the south end of Seven Bridges Road and Jim Ross made it the subject of Memory Motel in the Fall issue of American Road Magazine. It's a great motel with some fantastic owners. Wayne and Faye Gurley have run the Pine Lake Motel for thirty-five years and are as cool as the motel itself. My room.

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