Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The South is Rising Again in Selma, AL

This article speaks for itself:

Story posted 2010.08.25 at 11:08 AM CDT
Posted by Cody Holyoke

SELMA, AL (WSFA) - The City Council chambers had to be cleared Tuesday night after things became heated between council members and protestors.

A group of demonstrators say council president Dr. Cecil Williamson was a member of the League of the South, a neo-confederate group.

Protestors also allege Williamson hosted an event and headed a group honoring Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, who they say murdered hundreds of black soldiers and became a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

For those reasons, protestors called for Williamson's resignation.

"We don't have any legal jurisdiction to throw him out, but we're hoping that, if he really loves and is concerned about the city, that he will respectfully resign," explained Franklin Fortier, president of the Selma-Dallas County branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Once everyone entered the council chambers, the meeting soon erupted before members could even get to business.

With tension at a fever pitch, Mayor George Evans called for order.

"That's the message on the street. That you all called everybody and told them to come here and raise hell, so they couldn't arrest everybody," he told the crowd.

When that didn't work, the council cleared the chamber for nearly half an hour. Then, hour after hour. members made their way through the agenda, while police officers watched the crowd.

Councilman Samuel Randolph, the sponsor of the resolution, read the measure aloud.
"We request that Cecil Williamson voluntarily resign from his position," Randolph said.

After discussion, the majority of the council rejected it. Williamson denies most of the claims and says he's not a racist.

"The council expressed itself and voted it down overwhelmingly, and I hope that will be the end of that part of it," Williamson said.

Meanwhile, some residents are left shaking their heads, hoping the city can get it together and move on.

"I'm just amazed that, in this day in age, and in this historical city, that this is what's happening. You know, we have bigger issues here," said John Carroll of Selma.

Meanwhile, the controversy will continue. Protestors say they rally outside City Hall and the headquarters of the local newspaper until Williamson is no longer council president.

Stay with WSFA 12 News for the latest developments in this story.

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This is all happening 50 miles from me.

But hey, Philadelphia City Council has had its own run-in with the KKK recently.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Street numbering madness

Without doing much research, let’s accept the following as fact: until the 19th century, the street plans in cities were not planned, they just grew organically. Philadelphia was one of the first planned American cities using a grid system (1682) with a planned numbering system -- streets running north-south were numbered and east-west streets were named after trees (to reflect that the City was a garden city).


Of course, the problem with using trees as the names of streets is that even with the logical grid system, if you’re unfamiliar with the City there’s no way to know where Walnut St is in relation to Pine St. So not surprising, in the Commissioners' Plan of 1811 for Manhattan, it was decided that everything above 14th St would be laid out as a grid, and both the north-south and east-west streets would be numbered streets.


Birmingham, AL is relatively new city (founded 1871), and before anything was built, the planners decided it would be a grid with all numbered streets.


Now you’d think being such a new city it would have the most logical street design and numbering system because the planners had the benefit of seeing what worked and failed in other American cities over the last 100 years -- Manhattan’s 1811 plan had been around for 60 years. But something went terribly wrong. As my friend describes it, the City ran out of street names.


Here’s a map of part of Birmingham:

I was in a car with my friend; he was driving and I was navigating. We were going west on Dennison Ave and needed to turn at 16th Way SW. I told him to do this, but not to get excited when he saw 16th St SW or 16th Pl SW -- neither were our turn; we were looking for 16th Way SW.

The whole city looks like this. It appears that streets were added after the original plan, and instead of giving the streets proper names, Birmingham wanted to keep as many streets as possible named after numbers. It's led to total insanity.


So going north to south, there's 31st Alley N, 31st Ave N and 31st Alley again -- except there's no directional suffix. And then 31st Alley becomes 30th Alley N. WTF?

How about this:

From east to west there is:

  • 1st Alley W
  • 1st St N
  • Center St N
  • Center Alley W
  • Center Pl W
  • 1st Alley W (again)
  • 1st St W
  • 1st Alley W (again)
  • 1st Place W

It's massive FUBAR.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Memphis, TN

Last weekend I was in New York and I went through hell flying back to Montgomery. I wrote Delta a 1,200 word complaint letter, but in short, here’s what happened:

I checked-in online the night before my flight on Saturday. When I arrived to Newark airport on Sunday evening I found out that my flight to Atlanta was delayed so late that I would miss my connecting flight to Montgomery. The line to see an agent at the counter was easily 50 to 75 people long, and there was only one person at the counter. Meanwhile, there were three people working the Medallion status counter doing nothing.

Realizing that if I wanted a chance of rescheduling the flight that night, I needed to talk to someone on the phone ASAP because it could be hours until I would get to the counter. After calling a few random number on the Delta website I was able to get someone on the phone who could handle booking. At first they suggested that I fly to Atlanta that night and get a new flight to Montgomery in the morning. I asked if they would pay for a hotel, and they said no. I asked if that meant I would have to pay for one myself or sleep on the airport floor, and they said yes. Instead they booked a new flight for me the next morning (this time flying through Memphis).

Now let’s pause here a moment. Had Delta notified me of the delay, I would have never gone to the airport. Penn Station to the Newark airport costs $15 on NJ Transit. So as I see it, Delta owes me $30 for a unnecessary trip to the airport (and then back to Manhattan). Had I received email notification about the delay, I would have never gone to the airport. And they definitely have the technology to do this. As soon as my flight was changed I received email notification and an automated call.

My flight the next day was at 6:30 AM. So I went to bed early, got up at 3:50 AM, got to the airport at 5:00 AM, and the same thing happened all over again. My flight to Memphis was delayed so late that I’d miss the connecting flight, I needed to see someone at the counter, the line was 50 people long (despite it being 5:00 AM), and there’s one person working the counter while there were three at the Medallion status counter. And had Delta altered me that my flight was delayed, I would have gone back to bed at 3:50 AM.

I got to Memphis at 9:30 AM, but my new flight to Montgomery wasn’t until 2:30 PM. There was no way I was going to sit in the airport all day, so I got a taxi and headed to downtown Memphis. I felt like doing some sightseeing would somehow spite Delta.

The taxi dropped me off at Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis. It’s best known for its ducks, which I did not see while I was there.




After checking out its ornate interior I walked around the surrounding downtown area.



There were a number of well manicured pedestrian friendly streets that featured restaurants, bars and clubs, but being the middle of the day and extremely hot, there was no one around. There was also a trolley line that went through most of these streets and connected to various points of interest in the downtown area. So the city does have a well thought-out tourism strategy, especially compared to other southern cities.



My time was limited, so I headed to the city’s The National Civil Rights Museum which has been built at, into and around the Lorraine Motel – the site where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.


The fa├žade of the main museum building looks like the motel as it looked in 1968. Out of the various civil rights museums I’ve been to so far, this was by far the most comphrensive of the civil rights movement. At this point I’m not learning much new from these museums, but I still spent about an hour and a half there.

One of the advertised highlights of the museum is that they’ve recreated the rooms that King and his entourage stayed in. It’s kinda cheese since it just looks like a period motel room. More significant is that you can lookout (but not stand on) the balcony where he was shot. As one woman there summarized to her young daughter: “You’re standing where a very important event in history happened. You don’t understand do you? Well, you’ll understand in 10 years.”

The museum has taken over the Young and Morrow Building across the street -- it's the former rooming house where the shot was fired that killed King. In it there is a exhibit dedicated to the assisination and you can lookout from the window where James Early Ray fired his gun. When you think about it, it's kinda interesting that they've turned a crime scene into a museum.

After leaving the museum and looking for a taxi, I spotted this sign in front of a mini-mall:


It's pretty clear who they're trying to keep out. Next time I'm in Memphis I'm going to go in there wearing my jeans low, with hat sideways, and a shirt that says:

I Love Dick...
Nixon
for President

Nixon/Agnew '72