I’ve always had a negative perception of the southern states. I never much cared for Florida on my visits there. I have a low tolerance for heat and humidity. And then there’s that whole legacy of slavery.
But I just made my first trip to Birmingham, Alabama. In the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, I chose to visit a southern state where COVID cases are spiking.
Why would I do such a thing? Only one reason: because my daughter is living there right now and I’ve been missing her something fierce.
Despite my preconceptions, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Birmingham, although sure enough, it was hot and humid. I sweat like a dripping rag everywhere I went. And sure enough, I saw some things that disturbed me, such as a cluster of confederate battle flags planted in a field, a roadside billboard that said ‘We Sell the Second Amendment’ with a large photo of an assault rifle, and political signs in support of Tommy Tuberville who is running for U.S. Senate on his claim to fame as a Trump sycophant and a former Auburn football coach.
Football is a big deal in Alabama, as is Trump. He won Alabama by a wider margin than any other state in 2016.
But I also saw ‘Doug Jones’ for U.S. Senate signs. And although Birmingham is one of the most segregated cities in our nation, a number of the establishments we entered (masked, of course, like almost everyone else) had a racially diverse clientele—more so than in the town in upstate New York where I live. And there were beautiful neighborhoods and the landscape was more varied and interesting than I expected.
We visited the 16th Street Baptist Church where four young Black girls were killed in a Ku Klux Klan bombing in 1963. We stood on the site of protests against segregation, where Martin Luther King was arrested, in the city where he wrote his famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”
The most important aspect of Birmingham was Julia. If not for her, I would not have gone to Alabama. If not for her, I might not have realized I could live anywhere. Because there’s really only one requirement that counts: love.
The weather, the history, the politics–none of that matters about Birmingham, or anywhere else. I could set down anywhere, as long as it’s a place where I can love and be loved. Home is where love is. Thank you, Julia, for showing me this.