Day 42: Montgomery, AL + Atlanta, GA by Wookie Kim

I'd spent last night catching up with law school friends in Montgomery. Today would be a busy day. Not only would I be spending the morning exploring downtown Montgomery and visiting the Equal Justice Initiative, but I would also be tracking down a park in which to run before meeting up and staying with a friend in Atlanta. I knew I didn't have that many miles to drive, but was wary of big-city traffic on the approach to Atlanta.

The morning began with a trip to the Equal Justice Initiative--one of the nation's most inspiring criminal justice and human rights non-profits. Jeanne S., who'd hosted me last night, was a law fellow at EJI.

I felt like I'd come full circle. Bryan Stevenson, EJI's founder, had been the first person I'd been inspired by in law school. On day one, he'd come to talk to us fresh first-years about the power of a law degree--how he'd graduated from Harvard Law School and began working in the Deep South to stand up for those who most needed help. Almost four years later, I went to a talk of his in Baltimore, where he discussed his powerful new memoir, Just Mercy.  I spoke to him afterwards and told him about how he'd left an impression on me back in 2011. He chuckled and was glad to hear I was doing well. Now I was visiting the hub from which he had accomplished so much on behalf of so many.

Jeanne greeted me when I arrived at the office, which is in a nondescript building in downtown Montgomery. 

She gave me a tour of the EJI office. I immediately noticed that EJI used its space effectively. Instead of leaving the hallway walls blank, EJI put up portraits of past clients and newspaper clippings of victories. As I walked around the building, I felt like I was on a tour of landmark moments in criminal justice history. That made sense; much of the EJI's recent work has focused on history, and specifically the history of racial injustice and slavery in this country. To that end, the EJI had, for example, created a racial injustice calendar and released a report on the 4,000 lynchings that had occurred during the Jim Crow Era. I saw this emphasis on history on every wall of the office.

Of course, I couldn't leave without seeing Jeanne's own office. It was a little messy, but that could only be a sign that she was hard at work, fighting the good fight.

Before I knew it, it was time to leave. I didn't want to take any more of Jeanne's time. And I also new I had other things to see in Montgomery before heading out to Atlanta.

Outside the EJI office, I saw more of EJI's marks. As part of its campaign to raise historical awareness of slavery and racial injustice in our country, the organization had erected signs in various parts of the city. It turned out that the area I was in had once been used as warehouses for enslaved people.

If there was one (other) thing I was here in Montgomery to see, it was Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. This is the church that MLK led, and the church from which he coordinated the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the defining catalyst events of the civil rights era. I was here to visit the mecca. It was grand.

Given that I was in downtown Montgomery, and it was beautiful out, I decided I'd continue walking around. I next proceeded for the Alabama State Capitol, which stood only a block away from Dr. King's church. The capitol steps had served as the pulpit from which MLK had ended the Selma to Montgomery march. 

It was a picture-perfect day. I snapped lots of photos, including several of the Capitol building.

I also took one last glance at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. And then I was off for Atlanta!

I wasn't heading straight there though. I wanted to stop by a National Park Service site before entering the city. My plan today was to run inside Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park in Atlanta's northern suburbs. Specifically, I wanted to run the Kolb's Farm Loop, which would take me through meadows, creeks, and forests that had once served as a Civil War battlefield.

The run itself was neither long nor strenuous. But I was beginning to feel the accumulated fatigue of the trip. My legs felt heavy, and I took more breaks than on even some of the harder runs I'd done this trip. There were also times when I was forced to stop, such as when this stag literally stood in my path.

All along the loop, there were markers at the various locations where Union soldiers had skirmished with Confederate. I had the same thoughts I'd had when visiting other Civil War battlefields: How did soldiers even manage fighting in this terrain? How absolutely terrifying must it have been to be fighting in these woods/meadows/creeks? 

It was a hot day, and I was sweaty, dehydrated mess afterwards. It was also past sunset, and I needed to make it into Atlanta and recuperate before meeting up with my high school friend, Lizzie M., who'd graciously agreed to host me despite returning from a business trip late that evening. On the recommendation of a friend from Atlanta, I parked my sweaty bum down at Porter Beer Bar in the Little Five Points neighborhood. It felt incredibly weird to be in a big--really big--city again. I indulged in a few beers (but not too many to make me tipsy) and downed a greasy burger. Burgers and me have been good friends this summer.

At around 10 p.m., Lizzie texted to say that she was almost home. I made my way over to her house. It had been a while, so we spent a good bit of time catching up. But seeing as she had another flight to catch in the morning (#consultantlife), and that I had a similarly long day of travel ahead of me tomorrow, we called it a night pretty quickly. In the span of about 12 hours, I'd seen two good friends, visited one of the most inspiring legal non-profits I know, and gotten in a solid trail run. I was content.

Day 41: Selma + Montgomery, AL by Wookie Kim

There's not as much nature to see in the deep south. One would accordingly expect there to be fewer NPS sites in the area. But one surprising thing I've learned is the breadth of historical sites that the NPS protects. A lot of these are in the south.

Despite its wondrous waters, Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas seemed to emphasize the social history of the region--the story of the shifting relationship humans have had with the land, rather than just the land itself. And yesterday, I'd seen Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, which preserved the symbolism of the locus of our first effort to integrate public schools post-Brown

Today would be the third in a string of days seeing such historical sites. Finally making it into Alabama, I ran part of the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, which memorializes the 54-mile march made in 1965 by 4,000 African Americans who were fighting for the right to vote.

I was grateful to have had the opportunity to catch up with my good friend, Nathan B., who had hosted me the night before in Jackson, Mississippi. I was perhaps even more grateful for the chance to see Manny, who missed me just as much as I'd missed him. Nathan was off to work before I woke up, and instead I woke up to see Manny staring at me, and then playing with my phone and laptop.

I hit the road at 9:30 a.m., which was far later than I'd hoped to hit the road (self-discipline goes down the drain when I'm staying with friends in cities). I followed a truck that reminded me of my friend (his last name is prominently displayed), and made the push for Selma.

I could easily tell when I'd made it to Selma. The Edmund Pettus Bridge--that symbol of the civil rights era--was right there in front of me. It was a picture-perfect day. Hot and humid, but glorious nonetheless.

As usual, I made my way to the NPS visitor center in downtown Selma. It had only been built a couple years ago, and was still a work in progress, but I was able to find the answer to a question I'd had for the past few days: how much of a trail was the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail? The Ranger confirmed one of my fears: there was no actual "trail"--the National Historic Trail was simply U.S. Route 80. And that highway, I learned, had no sidewalk and practically no shoulder. This made me a bit nervous, but I wasn't about to do something different. I set out to run on the National Historic Trail.

I began at the Brown Chapel AME Church. This is where the marchers began. But it was more than that; for a period of time, this church served as the homebase for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In front of the chapel were various markers dedicated to Dr. MLK.  I explored the site, checked all my gear, and set off to run towards Montgomery.

A mile into my run, I was on the Selma side of the Edmund Pettis Bridge. The Bridge, and the gentle Alabama River flowing beneath it, seemed exceptionally serene. Who would've thought that this was the site of "Bloody Sunday" almost exactly 50 years ago? As I reflected on that history, I crossed the bridge.

On the other side, I recognized the location where the stand-off between marchers and police turned violent. Too much blood had been spilled here on March 7, 1965.

There were more plaques and memorials on this side of the bridge. I also saw Selma's welcome sign.

One wouldn't really be able to tell from the surroundings the history of the place. It all felt a little bit drab, as if someone had done a half-assed job of memorializing what had happened here.

And then I began the real run. I was on U.S. 80, and I was headed to "Campsite 1", the farm where the marchers ended the first of their five days of marching. I wish I could say it was an uplifting, energizing run. In reality, I was kind of scared for my life. The road had no sidewalk, and practically no shoulder. And the cars were whizzing by at 60 miles per hour. Any time I saw a car in the outside lane, I stepped off the foot-wide shoulder and onto the bumpy thick grass. While running, I tried to imagine the courage it took for those marchers to begin--let alone complete--that march. Those marchers had far scarier things to confront than speeding cars.

After about 90 minutes, I made it to Campsite 1. I'd covered the distance the marchers had covered in their first day. But now I had to turn around and head back (I didn't have the time or the support crew to do the full 54-mile run to Montgomery).

Even though the sun was setting, the heat and humidity seemed only to get worse. I'd underestimated the weather, and had completely drained my Camelbak. On the way back, I'd have my own (hydration) struggle. The last 2-3 miles back into Selma involved cramping, and the onset of lightheadedness. But I eventually made it back. I passed by what appeared to be a student mural of some kind, with a message that I couldn't agree with more.

As I crossed back over the Edmund Pettis Bridge, I looked back one last time.

By now, the sun was really about to set. The serenity of the Alabama created a mirror that amplified the beauty of this day's sunset.

As I returned to Selma, the Bridge glowed red as the setting sun's rays hit it from a very low angle. It was beautiful.

I was absolutely parched, and absolutely famished. Thankfully, I was off to meet (and stay with) another law school classmate, Jeanne S., this time in Montgomery. I hustled into town, where we (including another law school classmate, Jonathan A.) caught up over pizza and beers. Both Jeanne and Jon were working at the Equal Justice Initiative, one of the most important civil rights organizations of our time.

Running the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail today wasn't the most exciting or scenic experience, but it was one of the more meaningful. And it was great to be able to talk about that experience with two classmates who were continuing to fight the good fight--day in, day out. Physically, I was sapped; mentally, I was rejuvenated.