Friday Night Decompression

One of the ways that I procrastinate is by endlessly deliberating which of many tasks I should do first, and so it’s likely that my general plan to work tonight will be waylaid by such dithering. Should I edit the pics I took today? (A vortex of time suck, if there ever was one, and yet not un-useful, especially if I want to compress 400+ pages of the “transcript relating to the murder of Willie Beard, 1921 Jan. 16” into a single pdf.) Should I read from the books I brought with me? (My reading habits are strange and horrid: I take about a dozen books to bed, read a few pages from a couple, sometimes a few dozen from one, rarely reading anything but novels all the way through in a straight shot.) Should I go try to listen to live music and take in Montgomery nightlife? (Ha! That’s unlikely.) Should I blog? (We’ll see how that turns out.)

I only want to say, rather than falling into a blogging vortex trap delineating everything going through my mind, that as I get closer to this material (all of it, as wide-ranging as it is), I feel this grab bag of emotions. “Ambivalence” and “bittersweet” are words that sort of come at what I mean. The people I meet are overwhelmingly nice, from the clerks and other customers at Sam’s Club whom I fell into a conversation with about health care the other day, to the librarians (one of whom went to my high school!), to the security guards at the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Civil Rights Memorial (more on that in a tiny second). And Alabama is beautiful. The first picture I took today was of Japanese magnolias, my favorite flowers. I got a snap of the SPLC behind it. The architecture of the state buildings is grand, all Greek revival and Alabama marble. It’s no D.C., of course, but I wouldn’t mind living here (hey, two Montgomery institutions where I’ve got open applications, I’m talking to you! [New Jersey, I’d join you in a heartbeat, too!]).

It’s hard not be be excited, not to feel a little rush each time I walk into the archives. For a girl who loves libraries, this is the basically my mothership. To touch yellowed documents, carefully turning each page and finally making use of my digital camera document capture system that I’ve perfected (okay, I have a tripod, a digital camera, a corded remote, and I learned how to use contrast and white balance), makes my nerd heart swell.

And then I think, with the sky gone full blue after a grey morning, peering in the windows at a late-afternoon angle, various military planes practicing for tomorrow’s air show at Maxwell Air Force Base, of what it is that I’m photographing: a transcript of statements of various members of the Alabama National Guard relating to the lynching of Willie Beard on January 16, 1921, in Jasper (which must also be the William Byrd listed here). I couldn’t stomach looking at Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America without feeling horribly voyeuristic and so that went on my to-buy list (though I do need to spend some time with it on my own).

* * *

Oh, I should go, dear blog, but before I do, that promised anecdote about the Southern Poverty Law Center. Now, I knew full well that the SPLC is well-guarded, but I the archives are so close, and the librarian I worked with yesterday joked I should just head on down to the center and ask good old Morris myself about transcripts. I knew it was a joke, even though he said their kids go to school together. But still, today, I walked on down anyway.

Now, even though I am a chubby middle-aged white woman with a soccer-mom bob and was wearing seersucker capris, a flowing black blouse, and ballet flats, I thought I might invite suspicion as I kept referencing the maps on my phone and and was toting not just my usual tote bag but also a tripod in its case which either looks like a yoga mat or sniper rifle. But I figured I’d be dazzling in my naivety and just walk on up to the front door. Actually, if I hadn’t seen someone walk through that door, I wouldn’t have known it was there. The building looks like some kind of mirrored puzzle, and the one glass door slides open, so it’s not exactly welcoming.

Needless to say, the door did not slide open for me. But soon I heard a voice asking “Miss, can I help you?” And I said, “Sure, you can help me.” Eventually the security guard came out with a sheet of paper with the center’s web address on it, but as we talked, and I named the names of people I’d already been in contact with, it was clear both that I was well acquainted with the website and that without an appointment there was no way I’d be passing through that sliding door. He seemed genuinely sympathetic and wished me luck, and I left my calling card with him before heading across the street to snap some photos of the Civil Rights Memorial.

There was a guard there too. I’d seen him on my approach and noted that he noted me as well. When I got closer I could see that his mirrored shades were the kind like bicycle riders wear, shaped so as to eliminate any gaps between face and glasses. He also had a beige wire coiled into his ear. Otherwise, he was in familiar security tan, and not the secret service getup that his glasses and ear-piece might have suggested. He, too, was friendly, though perhaps less so, as his position as sentry required. I made a point to remark about the weather or something, lest my tripod case get me in too much trouble. He tried hard to sell me on the $2 admission to the Civil Rights Memorial Center and didn’t seem entirely convinced when I told him I’d be back Monday and that I’d take my time then.

But that’s true. Monday, I’m having lunch with a Montgomery poet and then spending the afternoon in the Civil Rights Memorial Center and the archives’ exhibits. But tomorrow: Moundville! I’ve been dying to go to Moundville since fourth grade Alabama history.

Huh, so it turns out I’ve spent my night blogging, texting, catching up on email, ordering books, downloading documentary music (Field Recordings Vol. 4: Mississippi & Alabama and Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb), and listening to Alan Lomax’s recordings, Negro Prison Blues and Songs that I bought years ago when I was an undergraduate. Not bad, not bad.

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3 thoughts on “Friday Night Decompression

  1. Pingback: The Cusp, a clasp, a hinge. « Difficult History

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