Go With a Purpose.
A blog about connecting through places that matter.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Discovering a Place I Might Have Overlooked

After reading New York Times writer Jim Noles’ recent travel piece, "36 Hours in Birmingham, Alabama," I’m intrigued with his perspective on a place I know only from history books and associate primarily with a violent civil rights past. I don’t know much about present-day Birmingham. But Noles’ diary-like piece uncovered gems for me and showed once again that meaningful experiences abound, particularly in places I may have overlooked in the past.

Noles’ 36-hour trip to Birmingham blends the past with the present and highlights a number of local treasures, including a spot atop Red Mountain that offers an “unmatched vista of Birmingham’s downtown skyline.” The spot is also home to the Vulcan Park and Museum. In case you didn’t know, the Vulcan is the world’s largest cast-iron statue and symbolizes Birmingham’s history and the nation’s iron and steel industry.

Noles’ description below further illustrates why this city is an interesting place to visit.

Across the street from the historic Sixteenth Street Baptist Church (site of the infamous bombing that killed four girls in 1963), the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute tells the story of the civil rights movement in Alabama and beyond and provides a somber reminder of how far the city and the nation have come in four decades.

Noles explains that these, “two very different museums offer equally compelling glimpses of Birmingham — one of its past, the other of its future,” further enticing me to visit.

Since I couldn’t just hop the next plane to Birmingham, I visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute online. The site’s resources are vast. I could easily spend hours listening to the oral histories, contained in video interviews with civil rights activists and others who were players in the civil rights movement over the years. These first-hand accounts make the civil rights movement come alive. For example, Emma Young shares her story of an encounter between Birmingham police commissioner, Bull Conner, and a group of rabbis who had traveled to Birmingham in 1963 to observe the movement and support the efforts of local Blacks working to end segregation's grip on the city. The interview was taped in 1995, a year before she died at the age of 102.

As I listened to these interviews, I came to appreciate as never before Birmingham’s significance in our nation’s history. And, after reading Noles’ engaging, informative and inspiring story, I can’t wait to experience Birmingham first-hand.

I also can’t wait for Heritage Travel to launch the new site so we can all read one another’s stories and discover new places through collective experiences. The new site will provide an engaging, informative and inspiring online community where we can share stories about places that matter; and inspire and connect with others who in search of meaningful travel experiences.

Until the new site launches, you can share your experiences by submitting your reviews of U.S. heritage and cultural sites for a chance to win a guided New York City theater tour. Even if you have already submitted a review, submitting more will only increase your chance of winning.

I look forward to reading about your experiences.

Jacqueline Gaulin is the manager of Customer Experience at Heritage Travel, Inc.

Photo credits: Birmingham, Alabama Skyline Flickr, James Willamor ; Four Girls Memorial, Flickr, acnattta.

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