Fort Sumter

On December 20, 1860, the state of South Carolina seceded from the United States.  That led to a domino effect in which ten other states ultimately seceded from the Union as well.  For obvious reasons, the United States was not pleased with South Carolina’s behavior, so on December 26, 1860, it secretly sent soldiers, under the command of Major Robert Anderson, to occupy Fort Sumter, a military fortification just off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina.  By April of 1861, Fort Sumter received word that the U.S. planned to replenish its supplies.  However, the Confederates also heard the news, so tried to persuade Major Anderson to leave the fort or expect an attack.  Major Anderson did not leave, so on April 12, 1861, the Confederates fired at Fort Sumter, thus starting the American Civil War.  Eventually, Major Anderson surrendered to the Confederates, who then held the fort until 1865, the year that the Civil War ended.  By the end of the war, the three-story fort became a ground-level fort, due to the continuous damage that it had endured during the war.

The United States partially rebuilt Fort Sumter after the Civil War and continued to use it until the mid-twentieth century.  After that, the National Park Service took charge of it.  Today, anyone can visit the site by purchasing a ferry ticket from Fort Sumter Tours.  A regular adult ticket is currently $30, so is not particularly cheap.  However, the ferry provides a beautiful thirty-minute ride through Charleston Harbor, and includes an audio tour.

I remember my ferry ride well.  Each November, Charleston hosts a library conference that is specifically geared toward librarians and publishers who deal with acquisitions for academic libraries.  My colleague and I had the privilege of attending one year, which is why I ended up visiting Fort Sumter.  During our ferry ride to the island, I noticed a pin on someone’s backpack that said, “Keep Calm and Weed.”  Because I am a librarian, my immediate assumption was that this passenger was also a librarian, and that the pin was referring to the library definition of weeding.  For a librarian, weeding means, “to identify and remove books in a library that are no longer relevant to the collection.”  However, I soon remembered that “weed” has other meanings as well, such as “marijuana.”  I told my colleague, and we both decided that the pin was probably referring to the latter meaning.  However, the next day, during my library conference, I was happy to see the passenger with the weed pin also there, confirming that my first interpretation of the pin was correct!

Once the ferry landed on Fort Sumter’s man-made island, a park ranger provided a brief overview of its history.  There was also a visitor’s center on the island that had a nice museum about Fort Sumter.  I happened to visit Fort Sumter near sunset, so the National Park rangers had to take down the American flag for the night.  They invited visitors to help with the process by working as a team to fold the giant flag.  Although I did not end up folding the flag, I did enjoy watching the ritual.

Sources and Further Reading

“Battle of Fort Sumter, April 1861.” National Park Service. (accessed February 19, 2021).

“Fort Sumter.” National Park Service. (accessed February 19, 2021).

“Robert Anderson.” National Park Service. (accessed February 19, 2021).

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birth Home

Since it is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the United States this coming Monday, and since it is his birthday, I wanted to write about his birth home.  Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia.  He lived in the home of his birth for the first twelve years of his life.  Today, the home is owned by the National Park Service, where park rangers give free, 30-minute tours to visitors.  Although people cannot visit the home in person currently, because of COVID-19, park rangers are providing free virtual tours to organized groups.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is best known for his prominent role in the African American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.  His work helped pave the way for the U.S. government to pass both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Not everyone appreciated his activism.  On April 4, 1968, a man named James Earl Ray assassinated King in Memphis, Tennessee.

King’s home is a popular tourist destination, so those wanting a free tour should come early in the morning.  Only fifteen people can join a tour at a time, and it is based on a first-come, first-served basis.  My tour guide tried his best to give my group a personal experience.  Before we began, he asked each of us on the tour where we were from, perhaps to help us feel more comfortable to ask questions.

As we went through the two-story home, we learned more about the history of the King family, especially regarding King’s childhood.  My tour guide informed us that the stories he told us were based on what he had learned from speaking with King’s older sister, Christine, who is still alive today (as of January, 2021).  The way the National Park decorated the home is also based on Christine’s memories.  She has been an invaluable resource to them.

About a block away from King’s home is the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King’s grandfather and father both served as pastors.  King also co-served there with his father when he was younger.  Eventually, King earned a doctorate in systematic theology from Boston University, and then became the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.  Like King’s birth home, the Ebenezer Baptist Church is also owned by the National Park Service.  Visitors are welcome to enter it.  King gave his first sermon there, and his funeral was also held there.  Today, this historic church is only used on special occasions, while a newer building across the street is typically used by the congregation instead.  King’s sister is still a member of that congregation.

In addition to King’s birth home and church, the National Park Service also maintains a visitor center, which has a little museum that tells the story of King and the Civil Rights movement.  Not far from there are the graves of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King.  A fountain surrounds their graves, providing a peaceful resting place to a man who lived during turbulent times.

Sources and Further Reading
“Martin Luther King, Jr. Birth Home.” National Park Service. (accessed January 13, 2021).

“Martin Luther King, Jr. Birth Home Tours.” National Park Service. (accessed January 13, 2021).

“Martin Luther King, Jr. Current Conditions.” National Park Service. (accessed January 13, 2021).

“Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site.,Auburn%20Avenue%20and%20Jackson%20Street. National Park Service. (accessed January 13, 2021).