Southern Cultures 10.4 (2004) 93-95
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Jim Carrier's Traveler's Guide to the Civil Rights Movement begins the reader's tour not in Birmingham or Selma or the Mississippi Delta. Starting instead with the Declaration of Independence in Washington, D.C., Carrier anchors his trail of civil rights struggle in the defining foundations of "civil rights" in this country. This keen insight grounds the entire guide. When Carrier takes us to Virginia, civil rights stories emerge from Civil War battlefields, and lesser-known movement [End Page 93] battlegrounds such as Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina receive substantial attention. With this refreshingly broad view of civil rights and the movement, Carrier crafts a riveting historical guide that links the denial of citizenship to slaves in the 1780s through to the fight in Woolworth's across the South in the 1960s. Drawn by a sense of connection to the past and the urgency of political reforms in the present, more and more people venture throughout the South every year on Civil Rights movement and African American history tours. A Traveler's Guide is a unique contribution to this new kind of "heritage tourism."
The guide reflects the author's deep engagement with civil rights issues today. A freelance writer living in Montgomery, Carrier designed the Southern Poverty Law Center's prize-winning website, www.tolerance.org. The foreword by Congressman John Lewis echoes the current understanding of the movement not as a closed chapter of our country's history, but as an ongoing struggle worthy of our attention and study. More a historical guide than an all-inclusive guidebook, A Traveler's Guide to the Civil Rights Movement would serve as an excellent introduction to the possibilities for historical "pilgrimage," or as a supplement to virtually any travels throughout the South.
From blues museums to state capitols guarded by Confederate generals, Carrier finds civil rights stories in almost every major city in the South as well as many far removed from the main highways. While this guide will prove very informative to even those well steeped in civil rights history, it will be less useful for actually getting around. Don't expect to rely on Carrier's maps, which are very generalized. This lack of specificity is acknowledged with excellent cross-references to other guidebooks, tourist pamphlets, and especially National Park Service websites. But for someone already familiar with the area to be traveled or armed with other guidebooks, this will prove a valuable addition.
Comprehensive historical introductions spark interest in the detailed statewide coverage that follows. The city listings for each state reflect the differing forms the Civil Rights movement took in each area. In Charleston, South Carolina, Carrier includes stops as far apart in time as the Old Slave Mart and the Moving Star Hall, a tiny building on a Gullah island where Septima Clark helped community members memorize the Constitution. Atlanta's listing contains a balanced treatment of the life, work, and death of Martin Luther King Jr. Mississippi has almost no state-sponsored memorials or museums. Here Carrier instead points to a privately owned house or sometimes a graveyard, reminding us of the now-forgotten local people who moved behind these sites. The author gives some guidance as to the best route to take among and between points of interest. For the most part, however, the reader is left to formulate his or her own itinerary and judge the relative importance, as well as feasibility, of visits. Fortunately, the gripping historical narrative will inspire travelers to chart their own course.
In keeping with his broad definition of civil rights, Carrier covers a wide swath [End Page 94] of the eastern United States in his guide, including brief entries on Kansas (home, of course, of the lead test case in the Brown school desegregation decision), Arkansas, and even Massachusetts. Up-to-date civil rights scholarship informs the eighteen themed essays sprinkled throughout the guide. Readers will...