Montgomery is worth visiting for many reasons, but for us the most noteworthy is that this city was central to the civil rights movement in the United States. The movement accelerated in 1955 when Rosa Parks, an African-American woman, refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white man.
Many of the key civil rights sites are clustered in and around the governmental area in downtown Montgomery, making for an easy visit. The impressive State Capitol Building provided a landmark from which we began our exploration. Constructed as the Alabama state capitol in 1851, many people do not know that the Confederate States of America was formed in this building in 1861, and the building subsequently became the first capitol building of the confederacy until the capital was moved to Richmond, Virginia a few months later. Much history has transpired here; both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Governor George Wallace spoke from its steps.
The Civil Rights Memorial Center includes displays and a movie, highlighting 40 of the many people who lost their lives for this cause. A visit to the Memorial Center is a very powerful and moving experience. In our opinion, every American should be familiar with this history, and realize that in many ways the struggle still goes on today.
Outside there is a memorial designed by Maya Lin, who also designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C . Made of stone engraved with the names of the fallen, and highlighted by running water covering its surface, the memorial is beautiful and thought provoking.
The engravings form a timeline from the Supreme Court decision outlawing school segregation to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The artist purposefully left a space between these two, to represent the fact that the struggle for human rights began before, and continues after, these events.
Nearby is the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the pastor of this church from 1954-1960. Many civil rights meetings were held within its walls, and Dr. King lead the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955-1956 from its pulpit. From this relatively small and modest building, a movement was launched that would change the country.
Only two blocks away, across from the state capitol building, and perhaps best seen as an historical bookend of sorts, is the First White House of the Confederacy. This was the executive residence of Jefferson Davis from February 1861 to May 1861, when Montgomery was the capital of the Confederacy.
An interesting side story is that this house was originally built and lived in by William Sayre, ancestor of Zelda Sayre (later Fitzgerald). Montgomery was Zelda’s home town. Zelda and her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald came back to live in Montgomery for a brief period, in a different house which is open as a museum today and contains some of Zelda’s unique artwork.
Other civil rights sites in Montgomery include the Rosa Parks Library and Museum and the Dexter Parsonage Museum/Dr. Martin Luther King Home. We didn’t make it to these two, and will have to save them for a future visit. For now, we are back on the road to make it to Mobile by nightfall.
Mobile is a working port city combined with the influence of the deep south. Mardi Gras is big here, and the locals are quick to let you know that they began the tradition of carnival parades and celebrations well before their more famous neighbor city down the coast (that would be New Orleans, of course). Visit the Mobile Carnival Museum to learn all about the history and pageantry.
Nightlife centers around Dauphin Street, a multi-block area of shops, bars, and restaurants that reminds us of a more manageable and less raucous version of Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Street musicians can be found on weekend nights….
Another area for popular restaurants is along the causeway by Mobile bay. Here we enjoyed a seafood meal accompanied by live musical entertainment. The bar decorations were entertaining too.
Take a closer look at those “Christmas lights”.
Yep, those are shotgun shell casings. Sweet Home Alabama, indeed! Folks down here sure do love their Second Amendment rights. And with that thought and a smile, we say goodnight to you and goodbye (for now) to Alabama. It has been a whirlwind of a visit!