Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Resting Place, A National Disgrace

A few weeks ago, I was in Birmingham, AL to attend IGHR at Samford University.  Prior to the conference, I swung back to the airport to pick up a colleague.

I arrived early and noticed an old cemetery on the airport road - a much more interesting place to kill time than the cell phone waiting lot.

It captivated me immediately.  It was sad and forlorn in a Southern Gothic sort of way, a way in which only a Northerner - an outsider - can appreciate.  For I've never seen a place quite like this, so poignant and beautiful in its decay.

Stones dotted its ragged hills in no apparent sense of order, many listing at crazy angles.  Cement tombs were cracking, separating, and sinking into the ground.  And then there was the amazing variety of markers - monuments crafted of wood, cement, traditional granite, even kitchen tile.

But most touching of all were the inscriptions themselves - painted on concrete, carved with a stick.  Desperate last tributes are scrawled in wet cement, executed seemingly without planning.  Misshapen letters arc toward the heavens, trail off toward the earth.

They are utterly human and, to me, moving beyond words.  As an artist, I reveled in their variety, texture, and lack of uniformity.  I took lots of pictures.  Then my cell phone rang, and knocked me out of my reverie.  My passenger was on the ground in Terminal A - a minute's drive that felt like a world away.

I was pleased with myself for discovering this place, and for taking pictures that I could maybe someday work into my art - a series of paintings?  A collage?  The theme could be beauty and decay - or, rather, beauty as decay.

I didn't notice the state historical marker until I was turning back onto the airport road.  It was then that I learned who was buried here. Suddenly, I felt a bit ashamed.  This was not a quaint Southern Gothic tableau, nor a tourist photo op.

Rather, it was the resting place of three small martyrs - children who had unwittingly sacrificed their lives in the name of civil rights.  And its condition was deplorable.

To be continued...


  1. Haunting, Liesa. I look at these pictures and think about the cemetery I visited in Brockton the other day where there were so many plants, balloons, and figurines clustered around some graves the headstones seemed like an afterthought.

    Great pictures, looking forward to the rest of the story.

  2. Intriguing story Liesa, can't wait to hear more!


  3. I often find myself sidetracked by cemeteries when on roadtrips. I often wonder why some are neglected the way they are. I will many times clean off stones and clear debris to give some love and respect to those buried there.
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)