Photography / Travel

Day 9-10: Montgomery, Alabama, the Georgia Canyons, and Atlanta

from Photographs of the American Southeast, May 2001 by Tim Darling ((click for email))

Thursday, May 16 - Mobile and Montgomery, Alabama and Georgia's Providence Canyon

On the south side of Mobile, near the Gulf of Mexico, is the founder of Coca-Cola's 70-acre Bellingrath Gardens. They were nice, but I was disappointed not to find any coca plants hidden in the back.

I bought some film in Mobile and drove around the bay looking for the USS Alabama which was supposedly there, but I couldn't find it. However, I did finally learn the origins of Tom Petty's cryptically-titled album, Damn the Torpedos. In 1864 in Mobile Bay, Confederate troops sunk the Union battleship Tecumseh with torpedos and the Union commander yelled "Damn the torpedos! Full speed ahead!" and the Union army pushed on, forcing the Confederates to surrender.

I found out later that my grandfather was awarded his Air Force wings in Mobile on May 18th, 1940- almost 51 years earlier to the day. The coincidence is a little spooky considering he was British and fought in WWII for the RAF (he was only trained in the US).

Montgomery doesn't seem to attract many tourists. This may be because there's not much to do there if you're just visiting and don't know the city well. When my swamp tour guide in N.O.'s asked me where the next stop on my trip was, he laughed when I told him. "Montgomery?", he said, "what's there?" True, it's not a city that boasts all-night street parties, 650-foot feats of engineering, or any sacred grounds to rock and roll (that I know of). But its place in 20th century American history is unparalleled, having been the city that started the Civil Rights Movement. (If Tennessee changes their state motto to the 'parallelogram state', perhaps neighbouring Alabama should consider 'the unparalleled state'?..)

(Photo is the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church where MLK first preached and many of the Montgomery boycotts were arranged. On the right is the Civil Rights Memorial a couple of blocks away.)

A few years later, I read Martin Luther King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail and saw the quote that appears on the memorial in Montgomery, "[Let] justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream". In the letter, he correctly attributed the quote to Amos (Amos 5:24 from the Bible). In the memorial, though, the quote is incorrectly attributed to him. The most famous instance of the quote was from his "I Have a Dream" speech a few months after the letter was written.

The very southern tip of the Appalachian Mountains lies between Montgomery and Atlanta. But don't assume that means they fade into the flat lands without a fight! The green hills that I hadn't seen since West Virginia reappeared on my way to Georgia's Providence Canyon, which is a couple hours' drive south of Atlanta.

Georgia's Providence Canyon

Friday, May 17 - Atlanta, Georgia
The highways around Atlanta are called the 'connector' and the 'bypass', for what it's worth. Planes are always landing right over the top of I-75 because both Atlanta's airport and an Air Force base are right next to it.

The CNN headquarters seemed to be the popular place for Atlantites who worked nearby to eat lunch. On a tour of the studios, you can see the live filming of the network's 24-hour news channel, but unfortunately, photographs are not allowed.

The state capitol, with its gold roof.

Day 11: The Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee and back home

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All text and pictures copyright © 2001 Tim Darling.