September 24, 2005


Start: Huntsville, Alabama
End:
Birmingham, Alabama
Miles: 104 miles
Route taken: Route 72 west to Route 31 south exit at
Birmingham.

 

        It’s a Saturday in the Fall and that means most of the citizens of the state of Alabama are gripped in the midst of another University of Alabama football season.

        An hour before kickoff and at a gas station in Huntsville a man in a Crimson Tide football jersey is filling up his pick up truck that has a ’Bama sticker on the back window of the cab. His two pre-teen boys in Alabama T-shirts are sitting in front urging their father to hurry so they can get home and watch the pregame festivities.

        The Crimson Tide aren’t playing their hated interstate rivals, Auburn, but Arkansas is in the same conference and the game has an extra air of importance.

        In the small town of Warrior, Alabama, which is 20 miles north of Birmingham, the game is on the big screen television at Doss Restaurant.

        It is a medium-size diner with a two-stool counter, five booths and six tables. The restaurant is half-full, but everyone there is glued to the game.

        The attractive, middle-aged waitress with short hair and dimples calls the men sweetie and might be the biggest fan in the place.

        She is wearing a gold chain with matching pendant, a large letter A, and it swings as she hustles around the dining room floor.

Her apron covers part of her red Alabama T-shirt, but it can’t conceal her devotion to the University’s team. Her efficiency of doting on customers while not missing a single play of the game is remarkable.

        The cook doesn’t have the same advantage in watching the game. He does pop out of the kitchen between orders to monitor the game’s progress.

        He hasn’t missed much. Arkansas has kicked a field goal for the game’s only points and midway through the second half the restaurant crowd is getting impatient.

        The Alabama offense finally scores on a pass play and the diner applauds approvingly. The waitress is not impressed. “It’s about time,” she says while pulling away a glass to refill the customer’s sweet ice tea.

        College football in the South is ingrained in children at birth and part of their psyche by the time they are teenagers. It is just a rumor that some baby’s first words are Roll Tide Roll, but if it were true you wouldn’t find a prouder father.

        It is part of sports’ prominent role in this country. Roll through small town’s all over this nation and you will see signs announcing this as the birthplace or hometown of some sports star.

        In Camden, South Carolina I was told that is where major league baseball player, Larry Doby grew up. Doby, though was known for more than playing baseball. He was the first black to play in the American League and also the first black to play in the American Basketball League.

        We don’t know that though. The plaque just states he played baseball and is in the Hall of Fame.

        High school football accomplishments are big on town signs. I have seen numerous towns proudly display this as the hometown of the state’s football champion in some year that was a long time ago.

        One thing I haven’t seen is a sign announcing a Nobel Prize winner or a CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

        There ought to be a sign for Joe Minter.

        Minter is an artist who lives in a modest home in southwest Birmingham.

        He didn’t know he was an artist and never took any classes in art. Minter was a craftsman, making school furniture for several years. When the company went out of business he got work in construction, road work crews and other blue collar jobs.

        In 1989 he got what he called a vision from God and began a project in his backyard to illustrate the struggle of man in this country.

                                     
 
The focus is on blacks and the name of the venture is called the
African Village in America.

        It is a mixture of sculpture and scripture themes, a religious and political message in most of the work. One scene is of the Birmingham church bombing that killed four little girls. Each of their names are on folding chairs.

        Another piece depicts a jail cell and has statues of dogs around it with a police officer.
                

        One of the most moving pieces to me was a sink with a sign over it that said whites only. It is a simple piece, but very telling.

        When Minter was putting his work together he was gathering material from the side of the roads, thrift stores and flea markets.

        His wife, Hilda, wasn’t quite sure what to make of her husband’s mission.

        “I just couldn’t understand it,” Hilda said. “I said, ‘My God, what are you doing?’ He knew what he was doing.”

                                                                                                                                       

        Minter has always been talented with his hands. When he was a child, Hilda said he built a see saw for he and the children to play on and also crafted his own bicycle out of discarded bike parts.

        “He was always handy,” Hilda said. “It was just a gift that God gave him.”

        The gift now is shared with others. The village is open for anyone to see and if Hilda or Joe are home, chances are they will come out and visit.

        “I don’t get many visitors,” Hilda said. “It is nice to have the company.”       

        Joe was at an antiwar rally in Birmingham on Saturday and peace is definitely a central theme in his work. In the far corner, a parcel they were able to buy when the home on the property burned and the owners sold the lot to the Minters, is a piece questioning the Iraq war.

        The village is a continuous process, as is Minter’s art work. In a house across the street, aptly named “The Art House” is where current works are being housed. They will end up in museums or out in the yard.

        “It’s so full, you can hardly walk in there,” Hilda said.

        Every piece that Minter does has a message and is close to his heart. The message is there and available for us to hear. We just have to go and listen.