‘I faced the South with dread,” John Steinbeck wrote in his 1962 best-seller, “Travels with Charley,” published during the height of the America’s civil rights era.
“There, I knew, were pain and confusion and all the manic results of bewilderment in fear. And the South, being a limb of the nation, its pain spreads out to all of America.”
Steinbeck likened the South’s discord — the boycotts, demonstrations, church bombings and murders — to “labor pains” with the “nature of its future child still unknown.”
He thought that the bitterness of the labor was so great that “the child has been forgotten.”
Today, five decades later, I face the South with great curiosity. I trust I will return home with more heroes and heroines.
I’ll probably be somewhere in Tennessee by the time you read this. I left Traverse City this week as part of my “Following Charles” research and writing road trip. I aim to follow my great-great-grandfather Charles Dickerson’s path in the Civil War 150 years ago.
His trail with Company D of the Michigan 23rd Volunteer Infantry will lead me to Nashville and Atlanta. It is a path strewn with national battlefields parks, cemeteries, monuments, historical markers and museums that focus on the war, slavery and civil rights.
Our nation still has a long way to go to end racism and social injustices based on skin color, but the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s changed a lot.
It is as significant a battle as the Civil War a century before.
Sometimes you have to look to the past to understand today and move forward.
My route is simple. I’m following Gen. William T. Sherman’s March to Atlanta Campaign that started in May just south of Chattanooga, Tenn. and ended in September.