The first capital city of the Confederacy and an important link in the renowned Cotton Belt, Montgomery is today more widely known for its role as the unwilling host to the historic Civil Rights marches, inspired by a local seamstress, Rosa Parks, who was too tired to give up her bus seat on her way home from work one day in December 1955. Her calm defiance attracted the admiration of the city’s popular preacher, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. , who emerged on the local and national stage when he organized the famed Montgomery Bus Boycott, which ignited the national Civil Rights movement. Centrally located on the south bank of the Alabama River, this capital city is emblematic of the historic clashes from its role in the 1860’s War Between the States and its involuntary part in the Civil Rights movement 100 years later. Within one city block remnants of these historical events compete in their respective historic structures, memorials, monuments and museum exhibits.
Things to See in Montgomery:
This 1850 Greek Revival Capitol is famous for two events: First, in February 1861 on the front portico, the new Southern Confederacy inaugurated Jefferson Davis as the President of the Confederate States. The second event taking place on the same spot 104 years later, March 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ended his Selma-to-Montgomery Civil Rights march. Beyond this historic portico the doors open to a grand foyer flanked by a pair of white spiral staircases curling up three stories. The Capitol's pink and gold neoclassical Rotunda features a glorious stained glass skylight. Eight large murals designed in the late 1920s by Alabama artist Roderick MacKenzie decorate the walls. The murals show scenes from Alabama's history, such as the arrival of deSoto, the French settlement, early pioneers, antebellum life, the Confederacy and commercial development.
Check it out . . . The original “Governor's Suite" and the “Secretary of State Suite, " on the first floor preserve furnishings and documents from the period of 1870s-1880s, presenting a tactile peek into the past.
Check it out . . . On the Capitol grounds, 50 flagpoles wave a flag from each state on a semicircular walkway called the “Walk of States. ” Beneath each flag lies a stone nameplate—donated by each state from material indigenous to its terrain. A few of the stones are semiprecious, such as turquoise from New Mexico.
Founded in 1901 the Alabama Department of Archives and History was the first state archival agency in the nation. The museum, housed in a beautiful turn-of-the-century building with marble walls and staircases of Tennessee gray and Alabama white marble, displays changing exhibits relating to Alabama history, including interpretive hands-on galleries. Of particular note is the 19th century gallery on the second floor featuring unusual items, such as human hair jewelry made by Mrs. Jefferson Davis, antebellum quilts, and the Alabama State Bible. A room dedicated to former Vice President William Rufus King is also on the second floor. King, a North Carolina native, was born April 7, 1786 and at the age of 29 served as a North Carolina representative in the US Congress. He resigned in November 1816 to accept a post in Russia. When he returned, he became ill and moved to Cuba to recuperate. In 1819 he moved to Alabama and when Alabama became a state in December of that year, he was elected to represent the new state in the US Senate, and reelected more three times before being appointed Minister to France in 1844. He was elected again to the US Senate in 1848 but resigned in 1853 to serve as Vice President under Franklin Pierce. He took the oath of office on March 4, 1853 but died soon after, on April 18, 1853. The room dedicated to William Rufus King displays some of his personal clothing, furniture, china, and silver, and other items he collected from his foreign posts. It also displays documents that reveal fascinating things about this relatively unknown political figure and the times in which he lived.
A simple, unassuming dwelling, the First White House of the Confederacy was the makeshift executive mansion donated by a local merchant and hurriedly established to serve as temporary living quarters for the newly elected President Jefferson Davis and his family who lived there three months before the Confederate capital moved to Richmond. Conveniently located across the street from the State Capitol, the White House of the Confederacy allows self-guided tours. All the rooms on the first and second floor are open to visitors. Period furnishings, personal items belonging the Davis family, photographs and documents present a keen insight into the early days of the Civil War, the South's prominent leader and his personal struggles.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Began his ministry at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, which served as headquarters for the 1956 bus boycott. A large mural in the church basement depicts the influential people and landmark events of Civil Rights movement from the 1950s to 1970s. A short film supplements the mural.
Just outside the Southern Poverty Law Office, kitty-corner to the State Capitol and a block from the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, is the impressive The Civil Rights Memorial, designed by sculptor, Maya Y. Lin, who also designed the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D. C. , and dedicated on November 5, 1989. Etched on a round altar of smooth black granite is a chronology of the Civil Rights events and the names of 80 martyrs who died in the struggle for racial equality. Water bubbling from the altar’s center flows over the timepiece past the words of Martin Luther King (paraphrasing the Bible), “Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream. " A beautiful and emotional memorial.
The Olympian Center, featuring a replica of the Greek Temple of Hera, is the centerpiece of this 20-acre flower garden ablaze in colors all year long.
Located in the expansive green gardens of Wynton M. Blount Cultural Park, the nationally-acclaimed Alabama Shakespeare Festival is the fifth largest in the world. Presenting both classic and contemporary productions, it also offers year-round educational programs. The Alabama Museum of Fine Arts is also on the grounds. With its acres of ponds, gardens, museums and theaters, the Wynton M. Blount Cultural Park is the place to go for art and nature.
Housed in the modest home where the Fitzgeralds lived in the early 1930s while Scott wrote “Tender is the Night, ” the museum features personal belongings, furniture, photographs, and manuscripts of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and the rare diaries and unpublished paintings done by his talented, Montgomery-born wife Zelda. Each room contains memorabilia that speak volumes of their unusual personalities and strange life together. On the screened-in side porch of this old rambling house, the museum plays a film of their sad story, told through interviews of surviving relatives and friends.
ALABAMA TOURIST INFORMATION: (800) 252-2262
Priscilla Faith Rhodes is the author of DISCOVER AMERICA DIARIES: 50 STATES, 50 STATES OF MIND, and co-publisher of the award-winning website, Postcards from America, http://www.postcardsfrom.com , a edu-travel site that helps students and families learn about America through postcards.