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When we arrived in Brownsville, Fitzgerald Mann left the door unlocked for us. Fitzgerald and I had never met before, yet I found myself taking a shower in his house before he even got home from work. This was where we were spending the next two nights. Laura wanted to stay in the camper van, which we plugged into electricity in the front yard driveway. Bodhi and I stayed on the first floor and Bo Parr (our driver that turned into a fellow walker) was upstairs. 

When Fitzgerald came home that evening, we met for the first time. He introduced us to Eliza Ford. Eliza’s family are long time Democrats. Her mother worked with Al Gore and her grandfather was a State Supreme Court Justice. Fitzgerald was born and raised in Jackson. He joined the military and has traveled extensively around the world. He was in the army for 28 years and is now a veteran.

In the Brownsville town square, R-L, Fitzgerald Mann, Francie, Bo Parr, Laura Button, and Eliza Ford

We really enjoyed Brownsville. Haywood County is over 60% African-American and the only rural democratic stronghold in the state. However, as the older civil rights movement generation gets older and passes away, without a steady organizing force, it’s possible that this county will become more conservative. 

Fitzgerald held a gathering the next night with Andrea Bond Johnson and several other folks from the Democratic Party in that area. I was so glad to see Andrea in person, as TN Advocates for Planned Parenthood had endorsed her for state office back in 2016. We talked a lot about abortion stigma and heard about their incredible work helping inspire and register voters. 

That evening was the first time I had ever had Rotel Cheese dip, which Fitzgerald made. Apparently, this is a southern dish that I somehow missed out on as a Filipina-Floridian. Two thumbs-up.

The next night we stayed at the Joy O RV Park alongside cotton fields. This is where a lot of workers from the solar farm have temporary housing. 

One interesting thing about traveling through West Tennessee is that I was surprised at my own preconceived notions. When I think about the beauty of Tennessee, my mind automatically goes to East Tennessee. Appalachia is gorgeous with the Smokies, the mountains, and the changing leaves in autumn. I have to say though, walking through the land of West Tennessee with the wetlands, the cypress, the blue herons, and the farmland, it’s pretty spectacular. I’m really glad to have this opportunity to fall in love with the land and its people.