Topic: "Birmingham Jail" (5)
"Sometimes I sits and watches. Sometimes I just sits."--author unknown.
Many years ago, Frodo was in one of those elongated sessions whose functional purpose was to develop the professional skills of the Hobbit. Amid a tour of the administrative records available in Jefferson County, Alabama, Frodo happened upon the gentleman whose responsibility was the local penal system. The gentleman happened to be the brother of the recently-dismissed Manager of the Atlanta Braves Baseball Team. It was an interesting and star-crossed discussion between two baseball fans, which ended with an invitation to Frodo and his companions (none of whom were Members of the Ring) to tour the Birmingham Jail. Given that training sessions lasting more than 55 minutes generally suck beyond all comprehension, the invitation was readily accepted.
Frodo had probably never seen so many black people compressed into one building in his entire life, before or since. Depression and angst deepened in the Hobbit as he listened to the cheerful warbling of his new-found friend who exulted in the sparkling clean facility housing those whose actions mandated confinement. Frodo had little to say, and dropped back to the further reaches of the touring group.
Eventually, the entire group was brought into a single large room, with a line of individual cells against the rear wall. One of the empty cells was smaller than all the rest, and it was apparent that it was designed for a single occupant. When all were gathered therein, Frodo, now being far-removed from the tour guide, was standing in front of the single-occupant cell. The Tour Guide waited untill all was quiet, then proudly announced that Frodo was standing in front of the cell that had housed Martin Luther King. He asked if anyone would like to share in that experience.
Frodo pulled the door opened, entered the cell, and sat down on the metallic floor. Frodo recalls only the peeling paint, and the rust-colored undercoat. The structure was cool to the touch. The Tour Guide slammed the door shut, and everyone laughed. Except Frodo. Frodo closed his eyes and let his thoughts broadcast a feature film into his memory. When the door was opened again, Frodo just sat there, etching a few moments into his soul.
When the tour was completed, Frodo thanked his host, and walked out into the sunshine.
The Men of Gondor joined Frodo yesterday, a day that seemingly symbolizes quiet reflection, in a tour of the home into which Martin Luther King was borne. Sitting on Auburn Avenue, the home cost King's father $3500 when it was purchased and the property yet remains owned by his survivors. All of the nearby homes are owned by the US Park Service, have been restored to their historic grandeur, and are held as rental housing with the Park Service as landlord. Those few blocks look, as much as possible, just like they did when young Martin was formative.
After lunching at nearby "Thelma's" on ribs and black-eyed peas, cornbread, and sweet tea, Frodo noted the omipresent panhandlers and homeless up and down Auburn Avenue. Every corner, except those in the museum and restored areas, was crowded with black faces, gaunt and drawn. Each seemed to have his (or her) own approach to a potential target like Frodo. The object being to engage him in conversation, make eye contact, and then secure some "spare change."
Driving back to Mount Doom in his motorcar, Frodo thought only of how crowded that single jail cell in his memory now seems to have become. There was no sunshine, just a gray sky, and a roadsign pointing to "75 North," toward home.