Capital Cities Tour: Discover Montgomery, Alabama

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:

o State Capitol

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


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.

o State Archives and History Museum

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.

o First White House of the Confederacy

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.

o Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church

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.

o Civil Rights Memorial

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.

o Jasmine Hill Gardens and Outdoor Museum

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.

o Alabama Shakespeare Festival

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.

o Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum

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.


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