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The city of Montgomery, Alabama has a rich heritage when it comes to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. A number of historic exhibits and sites are found around the downtown area and the sections adjoining the hub of the city. Here are some examples of Civil Rights landmarks and memorials that help to preserve this important part of Montgomery’s past.
One of the best places to begin a tour of civil rights landmarks is the Civil Rights Memorial located at 400 Washington Avenue in downtown Montgomery. Envisioned and designed by prominent architectural designer Maya Lin, this outdoor setting notes the key events that laid the groundwork for the modern civil rights movement in the 1950s. The meditative nature of the memorial allows for quiet reflection of the struggles of people that were an integral part of the movement during the next two decades. Visitors will be able to read short descriptions of key events and brief biographies of persons who sacrificed a great deal in the name of racial equality. The Memorial is open to the public twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and is one of the more popular civil rights landmarks in the city.
Nearby on Dexter Avenue, the Dexter King Memorial Baptist Church is among the civil rights landmarks that have remained relatively unchanged over the years. The Dexter Baptist Church was the site of the first major gathering that led to the Bus Boycott of 1955-56. This church was also the first pulpit occupied full time by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. It was in the sanctuary of this church that plans for a boycott of Montgomery’s bus system was first announced to the general public, and implemented in response to the arrest of Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus in December 1955. Many of Dr. King’s first sermons on the love of God for all persons were preached in this pulpit. The church features murals that depict the events of those days and Dr. King’s ministry while in Montgomery. Among the guided tours of civil rights landmarks in Montgomery, this is one of the most informative and thought provoking.
The Southern Poverty Law Center came about through the efforts of two prominent Montgomery attorneys, Joseph Levin, Jr. and Morris Dees. Formed in 1969, the SPLC continues to fight for the rights of persons that have little or no resources to protect their legal rights. Within the walls of the SPLC building are histories of the Center’s creation during the civil rights era, as well as some of the landmark cases it has won over the years. The SPLC also provides the grounds for the Civil Rights Memorial and also supports the further development of civil rights landmarks throughout the downtown and midtown sections of Montgomery.
Located across from downtown, Alabama State University was one of the first institutions of higher learning created for African Americans in the Reconstruction period after Civil War. Opening its doors in 1867, the University maintains an excellent collection of civil rights records, pictures, books, newswires, and television footage. Here the visitor can see live footage of such important events as the Freedom March bus tours of the early 1960s as they stopped in Montgomery, as well as the historic March from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Books containing first hand accounts from persons of all races who marched for equality are found among this collection.
The centerpiece of Montgomery’s civil rights landmarks is without a doubt the Rosa Parks Library and Museum located in the heart of downtown on Montgomery Street. The seven thousand square feet of the bottom floor of the Museum contains permanent exhibits that chronicle the first twenty years of the civil rights struggle, beginning with the arrest of Mrs. Parks and following through to the many significant events that followed. Special exhibits that focus on racial equality also appear at the Museum on a rotating basis. The Assembly Room or auditorium frequently features guest lecturers who share expertise in the history of the movement through the years. Visitors are welcome at the Museum Monday through Saturday during the day, with special events open to the public during the evenings.
Other civil rights landmarks continue to be acquired and preserved for future generations. The Ben Moore Hotel, located on the corner of Jackson and High Streets, was the site for meetings between the black and white community leaders in the early years of the civil rights era. Plans for refurbishing this important building continue to be pursued.
Another civil rights landmark under development is the Martin Luther King home, where Dr. King and his family lived during their time in Montgomery from 1954 to 1959. As the city continues to seek ways to honor the rich contributions made in the name of equality, more of these hallowed places will take their rightful places as civil rights landmarks that are open to teach a new generation valuable lessons.