By Mike Lander on
It happened over 50 years ago yet the images remain clear in my mind’s eye. It was during my military service. I had just completed basic training at Ft. Gordon in Atlanta, Georgia and was on my way by train to my next duty station in Baltimore, Maryland. The trip took about two days as I remember. A very slow moving train through mostly the backyards of the people living in South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. If you truly want to understand rural America take a train ride. Do not go by automobile as you will only see what the towns want you to see. I think that the song “City of New Orleans” by Arlo Guthrie comes closest to the mark. Pay attention to the lyrics. “…graveyards of the rusted automobiles”. “Freight yards full of old, black men.” Throw in the assorted junk in backyards and the clotheslines and you have a pretty good idea of what I witnessed. Poverty, plain and simple. I must have left Augusta on April 2, 1968 if the trip took two days, as I arrived in Baltimore on the same day of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Tough day. The toughest. “Small Town, U. S. A. c.1949” was the typical sight as my train rolled through one town after another. Note the building signs: Furnished Rooms, Dr. Pepper and Plaza Grill. You can’t see this from driving through on Main Street.