While on our cross-country road trip from California to Florida, we took a detour north to visit Montgomery, Alabama, the site of several important events in the struggle for civil rights in America. We feel it is important for every American child to learn this history, and we wanted to take the opportunity for our children to see it in person.
Home to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Montgomery is the capital of Alabama, and for a short period was the capital of the Confederacy in 1861.
Montgomery was where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger, leading to a court case and sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956, demanding an end to bus segregation. The Freedom Riders were attacked by white supremacists at the Greyhound Bus Station in Montgomery in May 1961, which brought the cause of desegregation and civil rights to national attention. In 1965, Dr. King organized a march from Selma to Montgomery, gathering attention that led to the Voting Rights Act passing in 1965.
We had booked a room last-minute at the Embassy Suites in downtown Montgomery. After checking into our room, we chatted with the bellman, who, upon finding out that we were solely there to see the historic civil rights locations, told us he would be happy to drive us around in the hotel shuttle and share his city with us. We were so impressed and it was a unique experience to be shown around by a local.
We started by visiting the bus stop where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. There is a bench and a sign describing what happened and how it affected history. The Rosa Parks Museum is right there, with the story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It includes a full-size bus from 1955, built as a ‘time machine’, which transports visitors back in time to recreate the events of that fateful December day.
Next we saw Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, which is the church that Dr. Martin Luther King preached at during his time in Montgomery, and where many of the planning meetings for the Civil Rights movement happened. It was closed the day we visited, but we were able to see the outside, and our tour guide told us about its history.
Across the street from Dexter Avenue is the State Capitol, which is almost unchanged from how it looked during the Civil War. It has statues and monuments for Alabama leaders, including one for Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. We had an on-the-spot history lesson about who he was, and what the Confederacy was, slavery, segregation, and how it all related.
But there was also a monument for the speech given there in 1965 by MLK at the end of the march from Selma to Montgomery.
Finally, we visited the Civil Rights Memorial at the Southern Poverty Law Center. It is a beautiful and thoughtful monument designed by Maya Lin (the designer of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in DC), with a central fountain of water rolling over black granite.
Under the water, carved into the granite is a history of the Civil Rights Movement, circling around the fountain, so you can follow each moment as you walk around it.
On the wall behind is part of MLK’s famous quote: “…we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” It is a powerful monument and reminder of the sacrifices made in the fight for civil rights. We were all affected by it.
Where to eat
We had a great dinner at Central Restaurant, an open-air New American restaurant in a converted warehouse space in downtown Montgomery. The food was delicious and the service was excellent. We were able to walk there and back from our hotel, and the downtown area was well-maintained and pedestrian-friendly.
Where to stay
Embassy Suites by Hilton Montgomery was a great place to stay for our family of 5. They include breakfast and each room has a pullout sofa bed, so we had plenty of room to stretch out. The staff was very friendly and it was centrally located.