Tourism Tuesdays February 20, 2018

Civil rights history ever present in Montgomery
Looking for Top-Tier Drinking & Dining? Try Birmingham
Colbert County, Shoals, capitalizing on international tourism
Grand Hotel tops new lists of best Alabama hotels and resorts
“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website


Civil rights history ever present in Montgomery
From the article by Tracey Teo on

The Dexter Parsonage Museum, once the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Montgomery, Ala., home, is a portal to a place and time when African-Americans lived in a racially segregated world, constantly reminded of their second-class status. As I turned the key and stepped inside, I marveled at how King’s extraordinary crusade for racial equality through non-violent protest was born in such an ordinary place.

Tour guide Shirley Cherry allowed me to open the parsonage because, although the 72-year-old African-American retired school teacher has been leading tours for years, she says “I still get goosebumps” holding the key to the modest clapboard house where King lived from 1954 to 1960 when he was pastor at the church that now bears his name, the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church. She wanted me to experience that same thrill of unlocking, not only a door, but an era that was on the cusp of a revolution.

She proudly showed me around the nine-room house restored to look as it did during King’s time, pointing out that much of the furniture was used by his family.

The simple kitchen table was King’s Gethsemane. It’s where he experienced a life-changing moment, an epiphany that kept the civil rights leader strong in the face of fear.

Cherry is a gifted raconteur, and she recounted the story in a way that had me hanging on every word.

Late one night in January, 1956, with the Montgomery bus boycott in full swing, King received a chilling phone call demanding he call off the protest sparked by the December, 1955, arrest of Rosa Parks, the now famous African-American woman who flouted local segregation laws when she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger.

King was president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, an organization of black leaders that spearheaded the boycott. As planned, the city’s transit company was feeling the economic sting.

Intimidating phone calls were nothing new to King, but this particularly malicious one threatened not only him, but his young family, and it shook him to the core.  His spirit was broken. Maybe he should throw in the towel.

At the kitchen table, King prayed for courage.

Years later, he said he heard an inner voice clearly saying, “Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you, even until the end of the world.”

The sense of foreboding that had been troubling his soul was replaced with a feeling of tremendous inner strength.

He would need every bit of it. A bomb went off on the porch a few days later.

King wasn’t home at the time, but his family was. Miraculously, they were unharmed.
By the end of the story, I was almost as captivated by Cherry as by King.

In many ways, she’s the living, breathing embodiment of King’s “dream,” and I asked her to share some personal anecdotes about growing up as an African-American in the Deep South.

As a young child, she remembers wanting to go to school, but, like the library, it was closed to blacks, so she picked cotton alongside her sharecropper parents in heat as oppressive as the system that kept her in the fields.

In her youth, she closely followed King’s progress in the media and gained inspiration from every achievement.

A turning point in her young life was the gruesome 1955 murder of Emmett Till, a black teenager beaten and shot in Mississippi after he allegedly offended a white woman.

“It scared my family to death,” Cherry said.  “They told me stay in my place or I would end up like Emmett Till. They said it was better to be subservient and alive than dignified and dead.”

King thought otherwise, and, eventually, Cherry did, too.

“He empowered me to overcome all my fears but two, a fear of God and a fear of ignorance,” Cherry said.

She got the education she dreamed of and went on to become an educator herself.

She says she will forever be grateful to her mother, who worked in a dry-cleaning business to help pay her tuition to Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), a historically black college in Alabama.

The job came with certain indignities.

“My mother pressed Ku Klux Klan robes so she could keep her job and I could stay at Tuskegee. God made the KKK part of my scholarship plan,” Cherry joked.

Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church
I joined another tour at the adjacent Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, still home to an active congregation.

Less than a block from the State Capitol where Jefferson Davis took his oath as President of the Confederacy, the church was literally and figuratively in the shadow of justice until a young, unknown pastor’s vision changed not only the South, but the world.

When King accepted his calling to the church, he probably thought his main duty would be delivering memorable Sunday sermons, but a series of events that started with Rosa Parks thrust him into the national spotlight as the charismatic leader of the civil rights movement.

In the basement, a sprawling mural painted in 1980 by John W. Feagin, now 88, chronicles King’s civil rights achievements from Montgomery to Memphis.

King’s church office houses a well-worn wooden desk and vintage photographs of his family.  Volumes that shaped King’s thinking line the bookshelves.

In the sanctuary, I admired the stained-glass windows and wondered what it must have been like to sit in a pew as one of the world’s most compelling orators spoke of equality, justice, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Rosa Parks Museum at Troy University
Rosa Parks’ story is widely known, but the Rosa Parks Museum, which has six main areas and a children’s wing, brings to life that historic moment of civil disobedience on a city bus through a powerful, multi-media reenactment that captures the zeitgeist of the Jim Crow era.

Other exhibits focus on the bus boycott that followed and tell the story of how the black community was able to stay the course for 381 days.

Carpools were organized to provide transportation to boycotters. A fully restored 1955 Chevy Bel Air station wagon is representative of the “rolling church buses” used in the effort.

A highlight is the Victory Room, an exhibit that has a likeness of King and other civil rights leaders proudly riding at the front of the bus after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation illegal.

As I wrapped up my time in Montgomery, I was grateful that I had gained a deeper understanding of civil rights icons, but I was equally appreciative of my time with Cherry, an unsung hero unlikely to ever have her name in the history books, but still remarkable for her unwavering determination to get an education and create a better world for her children.

For the complete article please see

Looking for Top-Tier Drinking & Dining? Try Birmingham
From the article by Nils Bernstein on (Wine Enthusiast Magazine)

Birmingham, Alabama, once a center of iron and steel production, was dubbed “The Magic City” for its explosive growth at the turn of the 20th century. It later became a center of the Civil Rights Movement, which the impressive Birmingham Civil Rights Institute commemorates. An energetic food-and-drink scene in the city exudes a feeling that its most magical days are to come.

Highlands Bar & Grill

Highlands owner Frank Stitt is the most influential chef in the city. Stitt’s kitchens have spawned a legion of culinary talent that includes Chris Hastings, owner and executive chef of the ever-popular Hot and Hot Fish Club and Ovenbird. Stitt, after gaining experience working alongside food legends like Alice Waters and Richard Olney, opened Highlands in 1982. Later restaurants Bottega and Chez Fonfon were instant favorites as well. The extensive, ever-changing wine list has something for everyone.

Galley and Garden
Nearby Huntsville restaurateur James Boyce’s first Birmingham eatery, Galley and Garden, is in a restored home built in 1908. His New American cuisine belies both Southern and European influences. In that vein, the braised short rib has roasted Provençal tomato, portobello mushroom, arugula and stone-ground grits, while black grouper from the Gulf comes with herb gnocchi, puttanesca sauce and a crab salad. With more than 500 labels and 20-plus wines by the glass, the selection is one of the most extensive in the city. The wine list also includes many back-vintage options hard to find elsewhere.

Pizitz Food Hall
Much of what makes Birmingham an exciting food city is on display here. The Food hall debuted last year at the site of an iconic department store from 1923. There are a dozen food stalls that encompass Israeli, Japanese, Indian and Hawaiian cuisine, as well as two proper restaurants, the Ethiopean Ghion Cultural Hall and Fero. The Louis is a buzzing bar at the center of the complex that’s open late and serves snacks from Fero’s kitchen.

The Atomic Bar and Lounge

Rachael Roberts and Faizal Valli’s exuberant bar, recently nominated for a 2018 James Beard award for Outstanding Bar Program, is a riot of midcentury “Atomic Age” design. It sports personal touches like high-school trophies and a wall-sized mural of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album cover, with the heads replaced with Birmingham luminaries. It has the spirit of a dive bar, but it offers world-class cocktails like “The Legendary Sex Panther,” made with Bourbon, chicory liqueur, Cynar and bitters (it also comes with a temporary tattoo of a panther). There’s also a “menu” of full-body adult costumes, so you can be a dolphin, turtle, hot dog or Elvis while you drink.

The J. Clyde
While many of Birmingham’s craft breweries have their own tasting rooms, the best place to taste many of them in one place is at The J. Clyde. There are over 50 beers on tap, with over a dozen dedicated to brews from Alabama. There’s also an extensive cider and mead list, as well as a handful of well-chosen wines. Spirits offered include rye-based Stills Crossroads Moonshine and floral 27 Springs Gin from local High Ridge Distillery—the first legal Alabama distillery since the state instituted its own Prohibition in 1915.

The Collins
Many modern cocktail bars do a “bartender’s choice,” where your preferences are designed into a custom cocktail. At The Collins, it’s the only way cocktails are offered. There’s also a huge beer list and a small food menu with riffs on favorites like chicken and waffles (organic chicken confit and bacon-Bourbon syrup), pigs in a blanket (pork belly in puff pastry) and grilled cheese (three-cheese with tomato-onion jam).

For the complete article please see

Colbert County, Shoals, capitalizing on international tourism
From the article by Russ Corey on

Sue Pilkilton is not surprised Ivy Green, the birthplace and childhood home of Helen Keller, hosted visitors from 55 countries last year, primarily Japan.

Keller, she said, is extremely popular, even revered, in Japan

“We have always had a lot of foreign visitors because Helen Keller travelled all over the world,” said Pilkilton, executive director of the home and museum.

And Japan, she said, is the country Keller visited most.

Colbert County Commissioner David Black, who is chairman of the Colbert County Tourism Board, said 33 international tour groups visited Colbert County last year.

“I doubt there are many counties in Alabama that can boast these numbers,” Black said.

Huntsville and Birmingham probably have their share of international visitors, he said, but many of them are probably there for business-related activities.

On Thursday, Ivy Green hosted a group of Japanese tourists. So far this year, the attraction has had visitors from China, Canada, Italy, Korea, India and Israel.

Tour guide Susan Harrell said a large group of Japanese visitors normally attend the “Miracle Worker” play held at Ivy Green in June.

Susann Hamlin, executive director of the Colbert County Tourism and Convention Bureau, said this past year at the Travel South International Showcase, a trade show, she was inundated with tour directors who wanted to talk to her about Colbert County and the Shoals.

The two big attractions are Helen Keller and Muscle Shoals music.

Many of the groups arrive in a large metropolitian city such as Nashville, Tennessee,  Memphis, Tennessee, or Atlanta, then work their way around a circuit that could include Tupelo, Mississippi, because of the Elvis Presley connection, and the Shoals.

Hamlin said Nashville has become an expensive market for hotels, so visitors are staying longer in the Shoals.

“What’s happening here is we’re getting more hotel nights than we’ve ever got before,” Hamlin said. “One United Kingdom group used to stay one night. This year, they’re going to stay four nights.”

Music attractions are popular, and local musicians like Mike Curtis, Mark Narmore, Travis Wammack and others have agreed to perform for some of the visitors.

Pilkilton, Alabama Music Hall of Fame Director Dixie Griffin and former director David Johnson have accompanied Hamlin to shows to help promote various attractions.

Hamlin said she already has 16 or 17 tour groups booked this year, and she expects more. Groups booked are coming from China, the U.K., Ireland and Germany.

Hamlin said they also promote attractions in Lauderdale County because the longer visitors stay, the better it is for everyone in the Shoals.

Rob Carnegie, executive director of Florence-Lauderdale Tourism, said they also market the entire Shoals area to international visitors.

“It would be equally important to us,” Carnegie said. “The big motivation of that is the music scene.”

Florence is where FAME Recording Studios founder Rick Hall first started his venture, which was called Florence Alabama Music Enterprises. The Father of the Blues, W.C. Handy, was born in Florence, as was the Father of rock ‘n’ roll, Sam Phillips.

Cross promotion between the two counties, he said, benefits everyone.

Carnegie said it’s especially important because this year’s platform for Brand USA, a national destination marketing organization, is America’s music culture. The Shoals is also part of the Americana Music Triangle, which stretches from Nashville to Memphis and New Orleans.

“Music is the universal language and our statistics confirm that,” said Judy Hood, president of the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation.

The foundation owns Muscle Shoals Sound Studios at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield. Hood said 40 percent of the studios’ visitors are from other countries.

She and former Florence-Lauderdale Tourism Director Debbie Wilson participated last year in the first international music tourism conference in Franklin, Tennessee.

“There were hundreds of delegates there from several countries, and we discussed how to make our music attractions even more user friendly,” Hood said. “International interest in our music heritage is stronger than ever.”

Hood said she has also participated in the Travel South conference, which usually results in several international tourist groups visiting the Shoals.

“Later this year I will be serving on a panel at an international tourism conference that will be held in Germany,” Hood said. “Tourism experts all over the world want to hear about the ‘Muscle Shoals’ documentary’s powerful impact on music tourism in our area. We have to keep actively seeking out international contacts to keep this dream alive and reach our full potential.”

The documentary will be shown at the conference.

Like Helen Keller, Muscle Shoals music is popular overseas.

“We’re truly blessed to have more in our area than any part of the state when it comes down to it,” Pilkilton said. “I’m so glad the music is the hot item right now. That allows them to come over and tour the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and Ivy Green and spend the whole day.”

For the complete article please see

Grand Hotel tops new lists of best Alabama hotels and resorts
From the article by Michelle Matthews on

Even as it undergoes the final phase of a two-year, $32 million renovation scheduled for completion in May, the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa in Point Clear is No. 1 on U.S. News & World Report’s new list of the Best Hotels in Alabama. The venerable “queen of Southern resorts” also sits atop the list of Best Resorts in the state.

Of the top four hotels ranked, three are owned by the Retirement Systems of Alabama and are part of the RTJ Resort Collection, including No. 1, the Grand Hotel; No. 2, The Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel & Spa; and No. 4, the Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa in Hoover.

No. 3 on the list is the Grand Bohemian Hotel Mountain Brook, Autograph Collection. No. 5 is Wind Creek Casino & Hotel in Atmore, followed by The Westin Huntsville at No. 6, The Westin Birmingham at No. 7 and Wind Creek Wetumpka at No. 8.

The list of Best Resorts in Alabama includes two RSA-owned properties, The Grand Hotel and the Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge.

“Having the top hotels and resorts in Alabama is quite an honor and is the result of a commitment to hospitality excellence,” said Tony Davis, president and CEO of PCH Hotels & Resorts, also known as the RTJ Resort Collection.

“The Retirement Systems of Alabama, our owners, are dedicated to making their hotels world-class since we welcome guests from around the world to Alabama. The leadership and staff at our hotels provide exceptional hospitality daily, as these results show,” Davis said. “Providing great guest experiences is at the core of our business practices, and it is inspiring to be part of such a great team. Our eight hotels/resorts consistently stand out as some of Marriott’s best globally.”

The U.S. News & World Report rankings are based on an analysis of awards, expert recommendations and user ratings.

For the complete article please see

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website
Is your event recurring? If so, here’s how to submit an event that occurs weekly or monthly. Begin by entering the start date, end date, and time of event. Then, select “Repeat Event.” Choose “Weekly” plus select every week or every two weeks; OR choose “Monthly” and select the day of the month the event repeats. Finally, finish creating your event by adding a detailed description, photos, and video and submit the event for approval.

Need to update your page? Go to today.


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