Two weeks ago I asked readers to recommend regional vacation spots, as my husband and I were thinking of heading out of town for Memorial Day weekend. Despite a tremendous outpouring of ideas, including a few very thoughtful personal emails, Drew and I decided to stay in NOLA for the holiday, effectively postponing the weekend road trip for another time. Well, just two weeks later, that time has come. For a while now, Drew has wanted to embark on some sort of Civil Rights trip, a driving tour of the South with scheduled stops at Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., and the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., and perhaps a drive across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. I guess I’m OK with the idea, so long as we stay on major roadways.
In one of the e-mails I received two weeks ago a reader reamed me for invoking the dark symbolism of the film Mississippi Burning. He or she suggested it was irresponsible for me to draw such a reference. I guess I understand the desire to move beyond preoccupations with race and racism. But the fact remains: I am a young black woman, born and raised up North, now living in the Deep South, involved in an interracial marriage. And despite recent news that interracial marriages are at an all-time high, a sizeable portion of the population, including 15 percent of young people, find this “unacceptable.” Is it unreasonable for me to make a candid quip about the fleeting apprehension I feel when I step foot onto plantation grounds or drive through some of the less progressive areas of the South?
It’s frustrating for me to admit here that I am somewhat scared to drive too far beyond the New Orleans city limits, especially because I wish Drew and I could travel along Alabama’s Talledega Scenic Drive, a mountain byway that extends 20-plus miles into the Talladega National Forest and Cheaha State Park. A mountain drive is definitely our type of adventure. When we lived in Virginia, we used to drive along Skyline Drive and camp off the beaten path in the Shenandoah Mountains. I remember those trips with both longing and terror.
I’ll never forget the first time Drew convinced me to conquer my city-girl fears and go camping out there. We bought every type of equipment and trail guide necessary and staked out stunning routes that led us to mountaintops, waterfalls, caverns, crumbling old rock cabins and perfectly bucolic camping conditions. And while I tried to calm my fears, I couldn’t escape the thought that something tragic would happen to us. It was less a fear of the Shenandoah black bears and more a concern about an encounter with a backwoods psychopath or perhaps a racist angered by the sight of a black woman and white man sharing a tent.
Needless to say, my fears never came true, and now, for the most part, glorious photographs and memories overshadow my anxieties. But as I ponder the thought of camping or driving on dark, desolate roads in Alabama or Mississippi, some of this anxiety creeps back in.
For the record, we don’t plan on backpacking and pitching a tent anywhere south of Virginia, at least not anytime soon. But I’d like for us to take our road trip in a few weeks. And I’d like to overcome my fears of intolerant people or precarious situations. So how about I chalk up my worries to memorable scenes from disturbing movies such as Deliverance and, well, Mississippi Burning? Because frankly, what else would we have to worry about?
In any case, here’s the route we’ve mapped out thus far: Natchez, Miss. –> Vicksburg, Miss.–>Little Rock, Ark.–> Memphis, Tenn.–> Clarksdale, Miss.–> Birmingham, Ala.
Is this a reasonable route?