Six WPCI members attended the 80th anniversary conference of the National Federation of Press Women Sept. 8-10 and found Birmingham, the state of Alabama and the pre- and post-tours to be a welcoming place of history and learning.
Members Marion Garmel, Elizabeth and Fred Granger, Donna and Dave Penticuff and Julie Slaymaker can attest to this. They attended the conference’s workshops and celebrations, and some took advantage of the pre-tour and post-tour. NFPW offers these as a way to extend the conference experience and learn something about the host city.
Here is Garmel’s report of the tours:
During the three-day conference pre-tour, which focused on Alabama’s music and space heritage,
Donna and Dave Penticuff visited the Muscle Shoals studio that produced the music that made rock ’n’ roll. At the NASA Space Camp in Huntsville, the participated in a Mars simulation (and got to keep their space suits).
On the four-day conference post-tour, Marion Garmel, Julie Slaymaker and Fred and Elizabeth Granger visited “Literary Alabama,” which included Monroeville, the birthplace and home of Harper Lee (“To Kill a Mocking Bird”) and Truman Capote (“Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “In Cold Blood,” “A Christmas Story”). They were childhood friends. He was picked on and she beat up his tormentors. One of the things we don’t learn in school is that she went with him to Kansas when he researched “In Cold Blood,” and she conducted most of the interviews. He did not list her as a co-author. This may have been one of the reasons for their celebrated split in their later lives.
This we learned from a panel of speakers who either knew or were experts on the two writers. That was one of the glories of the tour, that there were still people alive who either knew the authors or knew the people on whom characters in their books were based.
Then off to Montgomery, the home of Zelda Fitzgerald and where she met her husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald (“The Great Gatsby”). The house has been turned into a museum. We also visited the town where Fannie Flagg (“Fried Green Tomatoes”) set her short story, “A Redbird Christmas,” and the Mobile Bay town of Fairhope, established in 1894 as a Single Tax Colony by progressives from the Midwest, East and West coasts.
But the most inspiring experience would have to be the visit to the Bethel Baptist Memorial King Church in Montgomery, where Martin Luther King Jr. was a young minister at the outset of the Civil Rights movement. King is an author (the “I Have A Dream” speech and hundreds of sermons). The Church Where It Started is part of the Alabama Civil Rights Heritage Trail and still is a functioning church. We attended a regular Sunday morning service for a couple of hours. At one point, the congregants welcomed us with hugs and handshakes, embraces and smiles, greeting every single guest in the sanctuary. It was a magical, musical time.
Thank you Verna Gates and the Alabama Tourism Department for arranging these trips.
NFPW conventions are always instructive. But the tours before and after each convention are the real learning laboratories. And you can’t beat the price. Next year’s conference is in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and probably will offer a tour to Philadelphia and the Liberty Bell. Put it on your calendar (Sept. 6-8).