When you visit Montgomery, Alabama, you re-trace historic events that one might say have led to the election of Barack Obama, the first black President of the United States. It started with Rosa Parks who inspired Martin Luther King Jr. and suddenly, the movement was off and running. Montgomery, the state capital, would never be the same.
Rosa Parks, a seamstress, captured the world's attention on December 1, 1955 by refusing to give up her seat to a white man on the city bus. She was arrested, but this action galvanized a long protest condemning the city's segregation laws. "The Montgomery Bus Boycott" was a dramatic catalyst for the civil rights movement. The boycott of bus lines began on December 5, 1955 and lasted for 381 days until a judge ordered that the segregation on public buses was unconstitutional.
Martin Luther King Jr. and his family lived in Montgomery from 1954 to 1960 while he served as pastor of the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church. During the Boycott, he was a community leader, elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association. In 1956, the parsonage where he and his family lived was fire-bombed. This allowed Dr. King to become a national leader for the Civil Rights Movement. In 1965, King led a protest march for voting rights that began
Rosa Parks December 1, 1955
on the Edmond Pettus Bridge in Selma and ended up at the capitol steps in Montgomery. Legislation was subsequently passed by Congress to protect the rights of all citizens.
The Black Heritage Trail runs from Selma through Lowndes County to Montgomery and then from Montgomery to Tuskegee. Tourists enjoy a unique opportunity to walk in the footsteps of civil rights pioneers.
Montgomery is also notable as the place where Jefferson Davis was sworn in on the capitol grounds in 1861, the first and only President of the Confederate States of America. A gold star marks the spot where he stood. Davis dwelled in a house that stood on the corner of Lee & Bibb Streets. The First White House of the Confederacy was later moved from its original location to its current location at the corner of Washington & Union Street.
On April 11, 1861, the telegraph was sent, from the Winter Building in downtown Montgomery that ordered troops to fire on Fort Sumter, beginning the Civil War.
In 1819, New Philadelphia and Alabama Town had merged, taking the name Montgomery after General Richard Montgomery, a Revolutionary War hero who died in 1775 during the Battle of Quebec.
Other Montgomery firsts involve transportation. On April 15, 1866, the first electric trolley streetcars operated here, not in San Francisco as many assume. The "Lightening Route" ran until 1936, replaced with buses.
In 1910, Wilbur Wright opened the world's earliest flying school here at the site that would become Maxwell Air Force Base. Today, Maxwell is home to the prestigious Air University.
Montgomery also influenced the music industry. At sixteen, Hank Williams quit school and began his music career in earnest. He made his first appearance on radio on WSFA in late 1936 and soon was established as one of the station's most popular performers. He worked beer joints and regional shows with his band, "the Drifting Cowboys." He was reportedly "discovered" at the old Empire Theatre, now the Rosa Parks Museum. His last performance was in Montgomery and he is buried here in Oakwood Cemetery.
Nathaniel Adams (aka Nat King) Cole was born in Montgomery on March 17, 1919. His home sits on the campus of Alabama State University where Paul "Bear" Bryant was head football coach for twenty-five years, amassing six national championships and thirteen conference championships. One of his most famous stars was quarterback Joe Namath. The Paul W. Bryant Museum, Paul W. Bryant Drive and Bryant-Denny Stadium are all named in the coach's honour.
Montgomery is no slouch when it comes to theatre, home of the Alabama Shakespearian Festival and several dance companies. Downtown Revitalization zips along here, the first phase of the Riverwalk complete with a beautiful amphitheatre and stadium; however, whenever one visits Montgomery, inevitably, it's the momentous history that always grips.
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
Courtesy of Montgomery Convention & Visitors Bureau