As our bus rolled down rural Highway 14, which sprawls loosely between Selma, Alabama and the iconic Sprott Post Office, we passed the sign for Hamburg, the tiny farming community where Mary Ward Brown wrote her brilliant stories and memoir, and I tried to apprise the busload of students of it. The few who heard me over the roar of the charter bus turned their heads vaguely as we passed the inauspicious left turn. A few then looked back at me, waiting for more, while others told their classmates who hadn’t heard me what I’d just said. It was hard to teach in such a setting, but I tried anyway.
We had just visited the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where I had my students start on the downtown Selma side and walk the arc of the bridge so they could get a physical sense how the marchers in 1965 could not see the small army of state troopers on the other side until it was too late to turn back. After a brief stop in the visitors center, they also got to browse the low-slung lobby of the supposedly haunted St. James Hotel and peer into the lush, dark courtyard at the center of that pre-Civil War structure. Now, we were rolling down a two-lane back road, moving further northwest into Alabama’s Black Belt.