Tourism Tuesdays December 5, 2017

King of the road: On the Civil Rights Trail through America’s South

Tuskegee’s Richie among 2017 Kennedy Center honorees

Grammy Awards 2018: Nominees include Alabama Shakes, Jason Isbell, Sam Hunt, Little Big Town

New daily tradition signals 5 o’clock in downtown Mobile

Blakeley State Park’s woodsy new log cabins are adorable, accessible

Be an inventor at the new U.S. Space & Rocket Center exhibit

Candlelight Tours continue at Governor’s Mansion for next two Monday nights

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website


King of the road: On the Civil Rights Trail through America’s South
From the article by Ella Buchan in Rough Guides:

Editor’s Note:  Travel writer Ella Buchan visited Alabama in October researching her article on the new U.S. Civil Rights Trail.  Brian Jones with the Alabama Tourism Department, Meg Lewis with the Montgomery Convention & Visitors Bureau, Kim Graham Smith and Vickie Ashford with the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau and Randa Simpson with Florence/Lauderdale Tourism assisted with her itinerary and hosted her during her time in the state.

Next year marks 50 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr and also the launch of a new Civil Rights Trail through the USA‘s South. On a road trip from King’s birthplace in Atlanta to the site of his assassination in Memphis, TN., Ella Buchan discovers how his legacy applies today.

Wanda Battle wastes no time on formalities. She squeezes my hand, closes her eyes and tilts her face upwards, haloed by the dim yellow lights. Then she erupts into song, her rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” swelling and expanding, threatening to shatter the walls.

We’re in the basement of Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, where Wanda is tour director. Martin Luther King Jr. was pastor here until the bus boycott thrust him to Civil Rights leadership. Later, he led protestors to the town on the 54-mile march from Selma.

It’s my second stop on a road trip through America’s South, visiting people and places associated with King and the movement. My journey comes just before the launch of the U.S. Civil Rights Trail (by Travel South USA) in January 2018.

Starting in Atlanta, where the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site includes his childhood home and burial place, my route traces a period where hope clashed with hatred and determination met with fear (and vice-versa).

Now, with an increasingly vocal far right, many fear progress is unravelling.

“[Racism] never died,” Dan Moore, founder of Atlanta’s APEX (African-American Panoramic Experience) Museum, had told me earlier. “Now it feels like it has been brought out into the open again.”

In Montgomery, Wanda pours out one last, syrupy note before blinking back into the room. Aged 11 when King was shot, she feels his messages are more pertinent now than ever.

“Every one of us should be letting our light shine,” she tells me, tightening her grip.

“Today we need another Dr. King. Go back and listen to his sermons and speeches and every word will be relevant right now.”

The weather is balmy but there’s a scent of autumn in the air. Trees are edged in pink and gold as I drive on to Birmingham, around 100 miles north.

At popular locals’ restaurant Niki’s West, Emma Bonner picks at a plate piled with collard greens and cornbread. She is recalling inky, fear-ridden nights spent lying on soiled hay, which scratched her cheeks and assaulted her nostrils.

The barn was an overflow for jails already filled with schoolchildren like Emma, arrested for participating in the Children’s Crusade of May 1963.

More than 1000 students had marched against segregation laws, armed only with placards and quiet determination. They were met by attack dogs and fire hoses with enough force to strip bark from tree trunks and rip hair from heads.

“I know what hatred looks like. But I won’t hate,” says Emma.

As she speaks, her right hand instinctively flies to the back of her neck. The hoses caused arthritis – a throbbing echo of the spitting, snarling hatred she experienced.

“I never want to see my kids or grandkids go through what I went through,” she adds. “But prejudice is still out there. I don’t know what generation it will be when that ends.”

“If we live long enough, we see it’s true that history repeats itself,” tour guide Barry McNealy, Emma’s nephew, tells me later.

We’re standing in a tiny kitchen in the 16th Street Baptist Church. With beige walls, formica worktops and a lone kettle, it’s an unremarkable room.

Until Barry tells the story of Sept. 15, 1963, when four children – Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair – were killed on this spot as they changed into choir robes.

The explosives, planted by white supremacists, tore their limbs apart and fused their bodies together.

The clock stopped. It still hangs on the wall, frozen at 10.22.

“This is not a story about black versus white,” says Barry, as we head across the street to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. “This is a story about man’s capacity for cruelty towards other men.”

I leave Alabama for the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, passing soupy swampland, cotton fields and trees soaring from glassy lakes.

Housed in the Lorraine Motel, where King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, the museum sweeps from slavery and the Jim Crow segregation laws to the Civil Rights Movement and its legacy. The subject matter is never straightforward, never simple, and never comfortable. Nor should it be.

Edging past a window onto room 306 – where King stayed – everyone is silent, solemn. Behind me, a woman muffles a sob.

My final stop is the new Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, around 200 miles south.

Due to open Dec. 9, it’s the first state-owned museum dedicated to civil rights, and it very deliberately shares its entrance with the Museum of Mississippi History.

“We all walk in together, and we all see our history together,” explains marketing director Stephenie Morrissey on a tour of the museums.

There’s no flinching from uncomfortable moments. And there are many, from the wall of Freedom Riders’ mugshots to the singed station wagon door belonging to Vernon Dahmer, a civil rights leader murdered by the Klan.

Towering monoliths, listing the names and “crimes” of lynching victims, are positioned to obstruct visitors’ paths. Skipping over or around them is not an option.

From a central circular gallery called This Little Light of Mine, a light sculpture sends ribbon-like tendrils into eight surrounding rooms and projects inspirational quotes on the walls.

The music swells and the sculpture brightens as more people gather in the space. Standing here, I realise what Wanda meant.

Perhaps the only way to tackle bigotry and hatred is to shine our own little lights in the hope that, together, they might just be bright enough.

For the complete article please see

Tuskegee’s Richie among 2017 Kennedy Center honorees
Internationally renowned singer-songwriter, record producer and 1974 Tuskegee University graduate Lionel Richie was among the five artists honored on Sunday, Dec. 3 by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts with its 2017 Kennedy Center Honors.

“The Kennedy Center Honors spotlights the extraordinary careers of five artists whose talent and ingenuity have enriched and shaped cultural life in America,” stated Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein. “Lionel Richie’s irresistibly recognizable melodies capture the heart and transcend generations.”

Richie’s co-honorees included American dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade, Cuban American singer-songwriter and actress Gloria Estefan, American hip hop artist and entertainment icon LL Cool J, and American television writer and producer Norman Lear. The honorees received their Kennedy Center Honors medallions on Saturday, Dec. 2 at the State Department Dinner and Awards Ceremony hosted by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The 40th Annual Kennedy Center Honors Gala, held the following evening, was recorded for broadcast as a two-hour primetime special to air on CBS on Tuesday, Dec. 26 at 9 p.m. ET.

Rubenstein continued, “Each of this year’s honorees became known to and loved by the world because of their complete originality and bold genius. They are creators of the highest order, and as President Kennedy’s living memorial, the Kennedy Center is so proud to shine a light on their boundless ‘contributions to the human spirit.’”

Selection of the Honors recipients recognized for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts — whether in music, dance, theater, opera, motion pictures, or television — begins with a solicitation of recommendations from the Kennedy Center Board of Trustees, the artistic community, and the general public. The center’s Special Honors Advisory Committee chooses the Honors recipients, who are then confirmed by the Executive Committee of the center’s Board of Trustees. The primary criterion in the selection process is excellence. The Honors are not designated by art form or category of artistic achievement; the selection process, over the years, has produced balance among the various arts and artistic disciplines.

Richie, a native of Tuskegee, Alabama, who graduated from Tuskegee with an economics degree in 1974 before staking his claim to a professional music career that has spanned three decades, has a discography of albums and singles that are second to none. His music is part of the fabric of pop music; in fact, Richie is one of only two songwriters in history to achieve the honor of having No. 1 records for nine consecutive years. With more than 100 million albums sold worldwide, an Oscar, a Golden Globe, five Grammy Awards, 16 American Music Awards, and the distinction of MusicCares person of the year in 2016, he is a true music icon.

His accolades don’t stop there. Richie has been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, an ASCAP Lifetime Achievement Award, a United Negro College Fund Achievement Award, induction into both the Songwriters Hall of Fame and Alabama Music Hall of Fame, and the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences’ Governors Award — just to name a few. And, in 2010, Tuskegee University bestowed upon him an honorary doctorate of music degree.

Richie’s celebrated mega-hits include “Endless Love,” “Lady,” “Truly,” “All Night Long,” “Penny Lover,” “Stuck on You,” “Hello,” “Say You, Say Me,” “Dancing on the Ceiling,” and one of the most important pop songs in history, “We Are the World,” written with Michael Jackson for USA for Africa. His song catalog also includes his early work with The Commodores, where he developed a groundbreaking style that defied genre categories, penning smashes such as “Three Times a Lady,” “Still,” and “Easy.”

During his most recent “All the Hits, All Night Long Tour,” Richie sold out arenas worldwide with a set list of his brightest and best anthems. Richie launched his Las Vegas headlining residency show, “Lionel Richie-All the Hits,” at The AXIS at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in April 2016. In an unforgettable evening featuring his brightest and best anthems, which have defined the music icon’s unparalleled career, Richie takes his fans on a spectacular musical journey, performing a variety of his seminal hits. Currently, he has joined country singer Luke Bryan and singer-songwriter Katy Perry as a judge for this season of ABC’s “American Idol” reality singing competition television program.

Grammy Awards 2018: Nominees include Alabama Shakes, Jason Isbell, Sam Hunt, Little Big Town
From the article by Mary Colurso on

Nominees were announced today for the 60th Annual Grammy Awards, and nine acts with Alabama ties made the list.

Jason Isbell, Sam Hunt and Little Big Town received two nominations apiece and five other acts — the Alabama Shakes, Zac Brown Band, the Blind Boys of Alabama, the Secret Sisters, Casting Crowns and Joyce Yang — earned one nod apiece. Here’s the breakdown on those nominations:

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Best Americana Album, “The Nashville Sound”

Best American Roots Song (songwriter’s award), Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, “If We Were Vampires,” Jason Isbell, songwriter (track from “The Nashville Sound”)

Isbell, a native of Green Hill, is a singer-songwriter, bandleader and former member of the Drive-By Truckers. He won two Grammys in 2016: Best American Album for “Something More Than Free” and Best American Roots Song for “24 Frames.”

Sam Hunt
Best Country Solo Performance, “Body Like a Back Road”

Best Country Song (songwriter’s award), “Body Like a Back Road,” songwriters Zach Crowell, Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne

Hunt is a country-pop singer-songwriter and a former quarterback for the University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers.

Little Big Town
Best Country Album, “The Breaker”

Best Country Duo/Group Performance, “Better Man” (track from “The Breaker”)

Little Big Town, a harmonizing country-pop band, includes Jimmy Westbrook of Sumiton. Two other principals in the group, Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman, met as undergraduates at Samford University in Birmingham.

(Note: “Better Man” also was nominated for Best Country Song, but that award would go to the songwriter, Taylor Swift.)

Alabama Shakes
Best American Roots Performance, “Killer Diller Blues” (track from “The American Epic Sessions,” deluxe edition)

The Shakes, a soul-rock powerhouse from Athens, rose to fame quickly after a 2012 debut album, “Boys & Girls.” The band won three Grammys in 2016 — Best Alternative Music Album for “Sound & Color,” and Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song for “Don’t Wanna Fight” — and was nominated again in 2017 for a live performance of “Joe.”

Blind Boys of Alabama
Best American Roots Performance, “Let My Mother Live” (track from “Almost Home”)

The Blind Boys, a harmonizing gospel troupe with a long and distinguished history, are led by Birmingham native Jimmy Carter. He’s the longest-performing member of the group, formed in 1939 at the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind, and the charismatic figurehead. The band has six Grammys to its credit, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.

The Secret Sisters
Best Folk Album, “You Don’t Own Me Anymore”

Singer-songwriters Laura and Lydia Rogers are Shoals natives known for their lovely vocal harmonies and fondness for country classics. Their third album, nominated here, was produced by Brandi Carlile.

Zac Brown Band
Best Country Duo/Group Performance, “My Old Man” (track from “Welcome Home”)

The band includes drummer Chris Fryar, a Birmingham native. He lives in the Gardendale/Mount Olive area.

Casting Crowns
Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song, “Oh My Soul” (track from “The Very Next Thing”)

The band’s leader, Mark Hall, was born in Gadsden and grew up in Montgomery.

Joyce Yang
Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance, Joyce Yang & Augustin Hadelich, “Franck, Kurtag, Previn & Schumann”

Yang, a classical pianist, lives in the Birmingham area and is married to Richard Cassarino, a bassist for the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. She shares this nomination with her duet partner, violinist Augustin Hadelich.

Also, “Moana: The Songs” was nominated for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media. Birmingham native Jordan Fisher is one of the artists featured on the movie soundtrack, singing “You’re Welcome” with Lin-Manual Miranda.

Grammy nominees in 84 categories were revealed by The Recording Academy, including top contenders such as Jay-Z (eight nominations), Kendrick Lamar (seven nominations) and Bruno Mars (six nominations). Childish Gambino, Khalid, No I.D. and SZA have five nods apiece.

Winners in major categories for the 2018 Grammys will be announced Jan. 28 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The ceremony airs live on CBS, 6:30 p.m.-10 p.m. CT. Other winners will be announced during a pre-ceremony.

For the complete article please see

New daily tradition signals 5 o’clock in downtown Mobile
From the article by Michelle Matthews on

Mobilians are used to the haunting sound of ship horns day and night along the Mobile River. But now, every day at 5 p.m. sharp, a new sound will ring out through downtown Mobile, as a different “captain of the day” blows a ship horn salute at the Renaissance Riverview Plaza Hotel on Royal Street.

The ship horn is mounted inside the porte-cochere entrance to the hotel. Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson was the first designated captain to blow the horn. He received a commemorative cap to mark the occasion.

The daily ship horn celebrates Mobile’s maritime history and kicks off happy hour at the downtown hotel. Captains of the day will be Renaissance guests and local residents selected by hotel staff.

Each of the RTJ Golf Trail Resort Collection properties in Alabama has a similar daily ritual that relates to local history and culture. At the Grand Hotel in Point Clear, guests enjoy a military salute and cannon firing at 4 p.m. every afternoon. At the Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort and Spa in Hoover, a bagpiper plays at sunset each day. A Mardi Gras-themed ritual is being developed for the Battle House Hotel in downtown Mobile and will be revealed at a later date, according to a news release.

For the complete article please see

Blakeley State Park’s woodsy new log cabins are adorable, accessible
From the article by Michelle Matthews on

On Monday, Dec. 11, at 1:30 p.m., officials will hold a ribbon-cutting for two newly constructed, furnished log cabins at the 2,000-acre, forested Historic Blakeley State Park in Spanish Fort, Ala. The public is invited, free of charge, to the park for an open-house tour and a chance to win a free night at the one-and-a-half-story cabins.

The Sibley and Peters log cabins are named for two prominent early settlers of the 1814 town of Blakeley, said Mike Bunn, director of Blakeley Park. Both cabins have convenient access to the park’s extensive trail system.

“By placing the cabins in a pristine wilderness setting, making them accessible by ramps and adding large decks, we hope to bring the outdoor experience to more families,” Bunn said.

The cabins will be available for occupancy at modest rates, Bunn said.

For the complete article please see

Be an inventor at the new U.S. Space & Rocket Center exhibit
From the article by JJ Vincent on

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center has opened its newest exhibit, “Spark!Lab,” Included with general museum admission, this interactive space allows visitors of all ages to become engineers as they work on design challenges, from cleaning up the ocean to creating a flying machine.

The hands-on activities inspire students of all ages to use critical thinking skills to solve problems and realize they, too, can be an inventor.

“Spark!Lab” was developed by the Smithsonian Institution’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, and includes an ever-changing array of themes and activities focusing on science, technology, engineering and math.

Visitors will also use art, history and creativity as they learn real-world applications for what they’re learning in the classroom.

For the complete article please see

Candlelight Tours continue at Governor’s Mansion for next two Monday nights
The first Monday night of the candlelight tours attracted a crowd of more than 500. Gov. Kay Ivey will open the Governor’s Mansion for candlelight tours for the next two Monday nights from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Designers have volunteered their time to decorate the Governor’s Mansion and the neighboring Hill House for the tours. “This is the people’s house and I want to share it with them during this special Christmas season,” said Ivey.

Tickets for the tours are available free of charge at the gift shop prior to the tours each day. The gift shop is located at 30 Finley Ave. across the street from the side entrance of the mansion.

The interior design companies working on decorating the mansion include Southern Posies, Lynne Coker Interiors, Invision Events, Hollyhock Gallery, Limerence Design, Hibiscus House & Interiors and Katherine Trantham Interior Design.

Choirs scheduled to perform include the Albertville High School Vocal Ease on Dec. 11 and Prattville First United Methodist Church on Dec. 18.

The Governor’s Mansion is a 1907 Colonial Revival house located at 1142 South Perry St. in Montgomery and has served as the official residence for governors of Alabama since 1951. The neighboring Farley-Hill House became part of the Governor’s Mansion complex in 2003 and will also be open for the candlelight tours.

The mansion will be open for candlelight tours from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 11 and 18. More information is available about the Governor’s Mansion candlelight tours at

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