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The sites in this guide are a key part of understanding America's story


It's summer travel season. And if you're still looking for a possible destination, journalist Deborah Douglas has a suggestion - or a few of them, all part of the U.S. Civil Rights Trail - and she's written a guide about it. It's not the beach or an amusement park, but Douglas says the sites in this guide are a key part of understanding America's story. And yes, it can be reflective, inspiring and fun. It's called "U.S. Civil Rights Trail: A Traveler's Guide To The People, Places And Events That Made The Movement." In it, Douglas uses her journalism skills to bring the history of these sites to life by profiling the people who make them what they are today, local restaurants to enjoy and even a playlist of music to enjoy along the way. And Deborah Douglas joins me now to talk more about it. Welcome, Deborah, and thanks for joining us.

DEBORAH DOUGLAS: Thank you for having me.

CORLEY: Well, I understand the idea for this book was inspired by a tour you made of various civil rights sites across the South. You write about how inspiring it was for you. It's one thing to be inspired by a trip. It's another to write a guide. So what made you have to write this?

DOUGLAS: Well, it really it was timely and a great opportunity because a group of Southern travel bureaus actually designated an official Civil Rights Trail in 2018. It was backed by deep evidence-based research from, like, the University of Georgia and other institutions and people who formerly worked with the Department of Interior. This is the first book that follows the official trail in the South. And I had to do it because it's my story. I am a child of the Great Migration. But more importantly, it's the story of America. Black history is American history. And so for that reason, I had to hit the trail.

CORLEY: Well, you start off with this three-day trip to Charleston, S.C. So why start there?

DOUGLAS: I needed to explain how Black people got here in the first place. What are we doing here? And Charleston is the largest port for enslaved Africans in the United States. African skill and African technology and cultivation is what made Charleston. It made South Carolina rich. And so I think that that is a living example and also a metaphor for the lived experience of Black people today when we consider our contributions to the foundations of what became a world power.

CORLEY: Yeah. Yeah. Are there other places - you mention 13 places in all that are part of this guide. If people are short on vacation time, are there places that they really must see?

DOUGLAS: Absolutely. So this is built - you can spend a month going every place in the book. But really, ideally, this is really made for long weekends. And so, you know, you can have a long weekend. You can go to Nashville and then hit Memphis, or you can go to Memphis and hit Little Rock. The Mississippi Delta is in the book, and I was so impressed by some of the cultural finds in Clarksdale that I decided to go back when I didn't have work to do and actually enjoy it for myself. So I spent a week at Travelers Hotel, which is actually mentioned in my book. Every bed has homemade quilts made by local women, so that reminded me of my grandmothers. And it's just a warm, friendly place. I went to a local coffee shop - Meraki coffee shop - which doubles as a gallery, with paintings by young people - young artists in the gallery and got to know them. I met people with names like Vondrel and Venesia (ph) and Altrez (ph), but he goes by Trez (ph)...


DOUGLAS: ...And I listened to music every night. I went to the Ground Zero Blues Club and to Red's and to the Hooker Grocery, where you can sit at the bar and have honeysuckle vodka from the Cathead Distillery down in Jackson, which is also in the book.

CORLEY: There are some parts of the book and some locations that could spark quite an emotional response from people. And so I'm wondering what advice you would give to folks if they think, you know, that this is too heavy for me - you know, I'm not sure that I want to take this sort of trip. What do you say?

DOUGLAS: Well, I would say that this book is representative of many, many big wins, which I delineate in the back of the book with a historical timeline. And so think about your positionality for when you're engaging with museums, like touching the bars of the jail that Dr. King, you know, stood behind when he was in Birmingham Jail. Contemplate these places and consider the fact that you're able to move about freely and to have a feeling and to have a discussion. So I encourage parents to frame the discussion before they get to a place and be open to questions.

I suggest mixing it up. If you're taking in some of the heavy stuff, then mix it up. This is why you want to go have a nice piece of nice fried chicken - or, in Little Rock, you have buffalo ribs at Lassis Inn (laughter). Or going shopping, you know, in Memphis or something like that, and turning your dollar over in a Black-owned business. So you can manage that. You can be - feel like you're a part of the solution just by holding space, contemplating what this history means, having discussions about where you and your family stand in this story and what you're doing to pull that throughline to continue the gains that we made during the mid-century civil rights movement.

CORLEY: That's journalist Deborah Douglas. Her book, "U.S. Civil Rights Trail: A Traveler's Guide To The People, Places And Events That Made The Movement" - it's out now. Deborah, thanks so much for joining us.

DOUGLAS: Thank you, Cheryl. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.