Meandering Around Montgomery
For a place to teach kids about key events in American history, you can’t beat a visit to Montgomery, Alabama, the birthplace of both the Confederacy and the Civil Rights movement.
Montgomery is an easily-navigable city; start at the Visitor’s Center at historic Union Station on Water Street, and pick up free passes for parking around the local sights.
Dexter Avenue Baptist Church
Once you stand in front of it, it’s easy to understand why the Dexter Ave Baptist Church, led by a young Reverend named Martin Luther King, Jr., became the center of the Civil Rights movement. Location, location – the modest church and parsonage are just a block from the imposing Alabama State Capitol building, where Jefferson Davis was sworn in as the first President of the Confederacy in 1861, and where Alabama Governor George Wallace famously demanded “Segregation forever!” Tours of the church are available daily except Sunday.
Civil Rights Memorial
An impressive black granite tribute to those who struggled for racial equality, this memorial invites kids to touch the water that runs over the engraved names of key civil rights events and people. Designed by the Vietnam Memorial creator, Maya Lin, it is free, always open and an easy walk from Dexter Ave Baptist Church.
First White House of the Confederacy
Located across from the State capitol, this former home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis is furnished with period antiques and has a small museum.
Rosa Parks Museum
The new Troy State University Montgomery Rosa Parks Library and Museum pays tribute to the seamstress who in 1955 refused to give up her bus seat as required by the Jim Crow laws of the time. Her actions sparked a boycott of the public transportation system by the Montgomery African-American community, and finally resulted in a Supreme Court ruling that labeled bus segregation unconstitutional. Kids can “live” through the beginnings of the protests and bus boycott at this interactive museum.
Old Alabama Town
The 19th and early 20th centuries come alive in this group of restored buildings that includes a shotgun house, drugstore, tavern, cotton gin and dozens of other structures, complete with costumed guides.
Side Trip to Selma
To see another famous landmark of the civil rights struggle, drive down Highway 80, on what is now a National Historic Trail, to Selma, Alabama.
In March 1965, peaceful demonstrators attempted to march to Montgomery from Selma to demand voting rights. The marchers were met on a bridge by state troopers, who attacked them on “Bloody Sunday.” The media broadcast of this shocked the nation, and President Johnson had the Alabama National Guard escort the marchers two weeks later, when they finally did take five days to walk all the way to Montgomery. The Voting Rights Act was signed in August 1965.
National Voting Rights Museum and Institute
Photos, video, artifacts and handwritten notes on the “I Was There Wall” chronicle the personal struggles of those who fought for voting rights and marched from Selma to Montgomery.
Visit the Chamber of Commerce at 513 Lauderdale Street for a copy of their Martin Luther King, Jr. Historic Walking Tour of Selma highlights, or visit the Selma website above for self-guided tours that you can print out in advance.
Other Family Options in Montgomery:
- Riverwalk Stadium - a good old-fashioned visit to the ball park with the Montgomery Biscuits Class “AA” baseball team and its mascot, a friendly biscuit with a pat of butter for the tongue;
- Montgomery Zoo - over 40 acres of barrier-free animal exhibits. Jump on the zoo train for a fun ride;
- ArtWorks at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts- in pretty Blount Cultural Park, the museum offers ArtWorks, a hands-on gallery for kids;
- Alabama Shakespeare Festival- world-class Shakespeare, plus repertory and youth productions.
How To Get There
Atlantic Southeast (Delta Connection), Northwest Airlink and US Airways Express all serve the Montgomery Regional Airport, located about 15 minutes from downtown on US Highway 80.
Where To Stay
All of the usual chains are well-represented in Montgomery. We stayed at the Comfort Inn Montgomery, just off of Interstate 85 at 5035 Carmichael Road, 334-396-6300. Downtown options include an Embassy Suites at 300 Tallapoosa Street, 334-269-5055.
Where To Eat
Try Chris’ Hot Dog, 138 Dexter Avenue, serving Montgomery since 1917. Lek’s Railroad Thai is also downtown, right in the Union Street Station. For Southern cooking, especially the fried chicken and biscuits, there’s Martin’s, 1796 Carter Hill Road. They’re closed Saturday nights, however.
photos (c) Shiela Scarborough
continue to p. 2, Northwest Alabama