We drove around Shreveport a little the next morning but couldn't seem to find anything we were looking for, so we set out for Vicksburg to begin our Civil Rights Tour. As an Air Force brat, I lived in Georgia in the early 1960s when segregation of the races was still the norm. Even as a child, I knew that there was something wrong with "whites only" bathrooms and water fountains at the local drug store, just for an example. As I grew older, I realized the larger evil and implications of oppression of an entire people. Although I was too young to participate in freedom rides or protests in the 1960s, I've always been interested in the history of the movement and desired to visit some of the important sites of that time, to bear witness to those who sacrificed so much and to acknowledge that the work is still not done.
The park includes 1,325 historic monuments and markers, 20 miles (32 km) of historic trenches and earthworks, a 16-mile (26 km) tour road, a 12.5-mile (20.1 km) walking trail, two antebellum homes, 144 emplaced cannons, restored gunboat USS Cairo (sunk on December 12, 1862, on the Yazoo River, recovered successfully in 1964), and the Grant's Canal site, where the Union army attempted to build a canal to let their ships bypass Confederate artillery fire. The Cairo, also known as the "Hardluck Ironclad," was the first U.S. ship in history to be sunk by a torpedo/mine. It was raised in 1964. The Illinois State Memorial has 47 steps, one for every day Vicksburg was besieged."
The park was quite beautiful at sunset, adding to its sad and haunting mood. It was hard to imagine what troops on both sides endured at this place, most of them far from home and loved ones, battling day after day in terrible conditions. We saw markers for troops from Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and more. I'm sure many were young farm boys who had no real idea what they were going to face. (Some day, will we learn to solve our problems without war?)
I read that somewhere around 17,000 Union troops are buried in the cemetery and about 13,000 of them are unknown soldiers. As a mother, I imagine the anguish of those moms who never knew exactly what happened to their sons, where they fell, if they suffered, where their remains might be.
Visiting this somber place seemed an appropriate start to our Civil Rights tour as the issues of the Civil Rights movement were directly related to our country's history of enslaving human beings. When I look at the news today, I can see that there are still correlations that continue to plague us and I wish we were further advanced down the path to equality and equal justice for all.