With just a few days to cram in all that Montgomery holds, we hit the ground running. Sunday morning had us up early and heading to church and visit one of the most iconic structures downtown – the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church. The church is where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began his ministries and rose to become a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. Church services prevent tours on Sundays, but anyone is welcome to step inside and worship. To the east of the church looms the towering and stunning state capitol building. It was on the steps of this building where 25,000 protesters marched 50 miles from Selma, ascended the capitol steps, and demanded that then Governor Wallace extend voting rights to all citizens.
History can make girls hungry so we decided to pop into Dreamland Bar-B-Que and Ribs for lunch. After all, what trip to the south would be complete without bar-b-que? The smell of wood slowly cooking seasoned meat wafted out the door and hung in the air. Just by the line and how crowded the restaurant was we knew our choice of restaurants was not going to disappoint. To walk off lunch and continue our exploring we headed past the Montgomery Biscuits minor league baseball stadium (sorely wishing a minor league game was in progress) to the Riverwalk and back around to see the beautiful Union Station.
American history in Montgomery reaches beyond Civil Rights and lands right into the lap of country music. Montgomery is where legendary country music star Hank Williams got his start on a local radio show. Described as one of the most influential country musicians of the 20th century, ole Hank ranked up 35 top-ten hits. All of this before an early death at 29 years old. Hank’s accomplishments and life story are told in the Hank Williams Museum. The 6,000-square foot museum brings the legend to life with old photographs, albums, snazzy clothes and other memorabilia, including the baby blue Cadillac where he died in the backseat. Can’t get enough Hank, walk a couple of blocks over to the memorial statue or make the short drive to Oakwood Cemetery, the final resting place of Hank and his wife Audrey. Here you are likely to run into other fans that have come to pay homage. Lore has it that his ghost comes a calling late at night which is told in the Alan Jackson song "Midnight in Montgomery."
Monday morning had us back in the throws of the Civil Rights Movement. There are many famous faces associated with the movement, one of which is Rosa Parks. When the seamstress and activist declared that she would not vacate her seat on a crowded bus for a white person to sit down, she started a movement. By sitting she took a powerful stand. Troy University in downtown Montgomery is where you will find the Rosa Parks Museum and Library which memorializes her actions that began the powerful Montgomery Bus Boycott. The museum has a fascinating futuristic time machine ride that transforms visitors back to the era of Jim Crow and civil rights struggles up until 1955 – when Rosa Parks took her infamous ride.
|Photo courtesy of the Rosa Parks Museum and Library|
About this time of the day we are getting hungry so we pop into Chris’ Hot Dogs on Dexter Avenue which has been there since 1917. Here you promptly take a seat and a snappy waitress wants to know what you’re having. The famous dogs come slathered in a homemade chili sauce that has this messy dog screaming to be eaten with a fork. Resist the urge or locals will definitively know you are a tourist. Stories are told of ole Hank sitting at the lunch counter, eating a dog or two, and scratching out song lyrics on napkins.
With a satisfying lunch we are back on the pavement heading to the Freedom Rides Museum at the Greyhound Bus Station. This historic site is where 21 young people used nonviolent means to protest the segregation on public transportation. Brave Freedom Riders stepped off a Greyhound bus to an angry racist crowd that viciously attacked them. The shocking violent event awoke the American people and the Kennedy Administration to the injustices that were happening in the deep south.
Before leaving downtown, we had one more stop to make at the Civil Rights Memorial Center. The center chronicles key events in the Civil Rights Movement and a memorial pays homage to important dates and people.
Our third and final day had us making the 30-minute drive from Montgomery to the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site. When white military officers declared that black men did not possess the physiological or physical capabilities to perform complicated tasks required to fly aircraft, pioneering young black men proved them wrong. Modern, interactive exhibits walk you through the struggles and successes these men made and how their abilities led to the end of WWII and integrated the military.
Our 72 hours in Montgomery was up. But there was one more stop to make on our drive from Montgomery west towards Selma at the National Park Service’s Lowndes Interpretive Center. The center tells the story of the famous Selma to Montgomery march and the determination and courage the nonviolent protesters had in the face of police brutality immortalized on "Bloody Sunday." Start your visit in the auditorium with a 25-minute film titled "Never Lose Sight of Freedom" and then meander among the exhibits to hear voices of the March and see images of the march that eventually led to legislation allowing all the right to vote. Afterwards we had to drive across the now infamous Selma bridge ironically named after a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Montgomery surprised us. We were expecting an old, tired city stuck in the past. Instead, we were met with a downtown that was vibrant, clean, and full of energy. One can not help feel the struggles of the past yet Montgomery seems to have used the past to move into the future.