It was 3:00 a.m and while most were sleeping, LEAP Center students hit the road to begin our tour of the Deep South. We were so excited to go on this 8 day trip because for most us, it was our first time in many of the destinations we will hit upon. Although Georgia is our final destination, we traversed a total of five: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. Each state border presented the perfect opportunity for a quick stop and a group photo!
To pass the time in the car, we played Charades, Trivia Crack, and Catch Phrase! The day was filled with many laughs and fun facts which made the 21 hour drive fly by!
Our first stop was in Louisiana, just outside the small town of Gibsland. What an excitement it was to see the historical marker where the infamous Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were killed. Learning about Bonnie and Clyde in the classroom is interesting enough, but being at the historical marker really personified the history of the two. After this first stop I knew the day would be nothing less than amazing, and it was.
Our first major stop of the day included a tour of the Civil War Battlefield at Vicksburg and lunch. Upon arrival, we viewed a film that taught us important background information about the battle and the grounds. During the Civil War, Vicksburg was a major holding point for the Confederacy. Bordering the Mississippi River, Vicksburg linked the two halves of the Confederacy together allowing them to pass supplies and support throughout the South. Several times during the war, General Ulysses S. Grant tried and failed multiple times to take control of Vicksburg from the Confederacy. However, on July 4th, 1863 the Union succeeded when the Confederacy surrendered its control of Vicksburg.
Following the documentary film, we loaded back into the car to proceed through the park where each state who sent soldiers to Vicksburg built a monument in recognition of their service and dedication to the war efforts. The first monument was also the most impressive. Illinois’ monument was intriguing for many reasons. Before entering the intricate dome, visitors climb 47 stairs, representing the 47 days Vicksburg was under siege.
Visitors now see vast hills covered in lush, green grass, but 150 years ago, these grounds constituted a deadly a battlefield. Even today, the lines of the trenches can still be seen underneath the grass.
In addition to seeing the war efforts on the battlefield, visitors also see the U.S.S. Cairo, which was sunk by the Confederates in 1862 and now resides in the park. Previously powered by steam, the ship required numerous crew members to maintain it. Interestingly, the crew members shoveled one ton of coal every hour just to help the ship move nine miles per hour!
Nearing the end of the tour, LEAP students braved the heat once more to catch a glimpse of the Mississippi River from a cliff overlooking the river. From afar, we admired the power and beauty of the river as we piled back into the van to head to lunch.
Following our tour at the park, we stopped to eat lunch at Martin’s in downtown Vicksburg. Immediately greeted with southern hospitality, we knew the meal was going to be great! A soup and sandwich style restaurant, the chicken salad with avocado was the favorite among many. Martin’s left us full, and ready for the next leg of our trip.
Upon arrival to the state Capitol of Mississippi in Jackson, we were very nicely welcomed by the visitor’s center with pins of the state Capitol. The very first artifact noted on our tour was our tour guide’s favorite piece in the building, the 1903 water fountain. This fountain was definitely much different from what we have today. Today we have a cooling system built in the water fountain, but back then we would need a block of ice if we wanted cool water.
The Capitol was built in 1903 as Beaux Arts architecture style on the site of the old state penitentiary. It was built from funds awarded to the state of Mississippi from back taxes by the Illinois Central Railroad, and at the time cost about a million dollars–about 300 million today.
A very different feature at this building were the light fixtures. It has about 4,760 light fixtures, with 750 in the rotunda alone. It is a very special fixture that beautifully lights up the interior of the building.
The tour was expansive, covering the entire capitol. The first floor holds the hall of governors, and the second floor holds the original Supreme Court Chamber which now serves as the Senate Committee Room. On the third floor we found the offices of the Governor, the Lt. Governor, the Speaker of the House, and both the House and Senate Chambers. We got to spend time in both legislative chambers, and the setting was beautiful.
Then on the fourth floor were the galleries where we got a clearer view of the House and Senate where we got to closely admire the domes of each chamber. The corridors of the fourth floor were especially different. Glass cylinders in the corridor floors to allow light to pass through the floor and illuminate the stained glass panels in the ceiling of the third floor.
Finally, we ended the wonderful tour with a stop at the exterior where we admired the 8 foot tall made of solid copper which adorns the top of the capitol building.
As well as the nice view the Capitol grounds offer…
Many thanks to our wonderful tour guide, Ms. Pauline Akers.
Surprisingly, we had time for a stop at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. We were greeted by a wonderful sculpture by the recently deceased Jesus Moroles.
…us in the rose garden…
Dining at John’s City Diner for dinner, the group was in for a real treat. Located in the heart of Birmingham, the diner’s decorum fitted with both modern and retro styles. Before our meals came, we had the opportunity to try fried oysters and “Fancy Bacon”, the latter of which was particularly tasty. When the meals came, the group was shocked. Many ordered John’s famous macaroni and cheese, which others order the chicken and waffles. Astounded by the portion sizes, we savored every bite we could. Dessert was just as delicious too, sampling from the restaurants most popular: Dark Chocolate Bread Pudding, White Chocolate Bread Pudding, and Frozen Lemonade Pie.
After a delicious dinner at John’s City Diner, we rushed to The Vulcan Park to experience the 65 foot tower overlooking the city. The Vulcan is a Roman methodological figure who was the god of the forge (metal shop). He was an outcast and did not gain relevance until marrying the goddess of love and beauty, Venus. City leaders decided to build The Vulcan in Birmingham for modernization and to represent its success in the industrial business. Looking at The Vulcan was much less intimidating than going up the 65 foot sculpture, but we overcame our fear of heights and made our way up. We gazed upon the beautifully lit city and were captivated.
It also gave us a moment to appreciate the history of the Vulcan, its representation, and the contribution Birmingham.
Following the Vulcan stop, we headed toward the Kelly Ingram Park. It’s a beautiful, moving park focused on Civil Rights, but 10:30pm on a Thursday night (or any night) is not the time to stop there. After dodging some shady characters, we were able to see the “Dog Attack” sculpture by James Drake. It is a disturbing and unsettling sculpture designed to give visitors a sense of what African Americans must have felt in the early 1960s, when Birmingham Officials (most notably, Bull Connor) used dogs to intimidate and, at times, maul African Americans.
Finally, we departed for our final stop of the day, Atlanta. Hoping to get some rest and be refreshed for a full day of sightseeing tomorrow, we hurried to find our hotel.