It’s 11 a.m. at Eagle’s restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama. I can see women in the kitchen squeezing the juice out of bright yellow lemons into a giant plastic vat. This wasn’t going to be some Country Time powdered mix. It was going to be fresh.
A soul food joint just off I-65 in the northern part of the city, Eagle’s has been Black-owned and family-operated since it opened its doors in 1951, 40 years before I was born. On the walls are faded pictures of the athletes and politicians who’ve dined here. It’s early for this buffet of oxtails, black-eyed peas, mac and cheese, collard greens, candied yams, and spaghetti in tomato sauce. But since my dad and I have only just begun our Alabama road trip, the novelty of having soul food for every meal is overpowering. I order the sweet tea.
My father sits at one of the restaurant’s six vinyl booths, eyeglasses lifted onto his forehead, squinting down at a Google map on his iPhone that traces our path from Birmingham to Selma to Montgomery. I’ve never been to the Deep South before, but I’m here now to visit historic sites along the recently inaugurated U.S. Civil Rights Trail, a conceptual pathway that links 130 museums, churches, courthouses, and other places that have contributed to the advancement of social equality in this country.
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