Our first stop in Alabama was Birmingham that played a significant role in the civil rights movement. Not only did we have a visit to the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on schedule but it was the day of the 59th anniversary memorial of the bombing of that church where four girls were killed. When we arrived at the church, now a National Historic landmark and still active, there were a lot of activity and television cameras you knew something was happening. Our group of eleven were able to attend the service in the church that was packed with dignitaries, visitors, parishioners and school age children.
Across the street is the Kelly Ingram Park that holds a number of monuments to reflect activities that occured during the civil rights struggle. Almost facing the church is a memorial sculpture of the four girls. Kelly Ingram park was a central location for meetings and was the site where protestors mainly students were attacked by dogs and powered water hoses. These young people encountered vicious violent abuse with dogs attacking them powerful water hoses turned on them and even to be jailed. Foot soldiers were those who showed up daily, organized, marched and jailed. Some of these foot soldiers were not publicly known as Dr. King , John Lewis and others who continued the struggles. In the park these sculptors are a constant reminder of those who were a part of this movement.
The children crusaders marched and gathered at the church and were arrested but the next day more children showed up showing determination and they were not afraid of jails.
Across from the park and next to the 16th Street Church is the Civil Rights Institute that further explored some exhibits similar to those we had seen before towards the fight for desegregation. Immediately outside stands a statue of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, an activist who fought against segregation, homelessness and helped organize boycotts and the Selma marches.
Although the accounts revealed in these exhibits were not pleasing and could make one feel uncomfortable there were some that made it a little bit lighter and less intense.
A note when visiting the Institute big bags have to be left in a locker , security holds your identification and you are issued a numbered key for a locker located near the entrance.
We headed to Selma next where we were able to walk in the same path the marchers took across the bridge. The Edmund Pettus Bridge is active with traffic going back and forth. Our walking across was not in the street and one has to be careful as the shoulder though wide enough, if distracted while taking photos one could be hit by fast moving vehicles.
Edmund Petus was an attorney and a Senator, he was also a confederate commander. This bridge is of significance in the civil rights struggle as this was where protesters were trampled and abused when they marched to fight for voting rights. It was the sight of Bloody Sunday where protesters in the first march were met by police and were beaten and injured.
Across the street from the memorial park is the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute where exhibits give a good idea of the struggles that continued even after the voting rights act was passed. Southern states made it difficult for African Americans to vote as they created tests to be taken before they could vote. Questions were similar across the board with minor differences with some state specific and others nationwide.
Some skills required were to count melon seeds, count jelly beans etc. Note if they did not pass the test they would be deemed not qualified even if one question was incorrect.
A section that stood out to me was the foot soldiers’ footprints. These footprints are of some who participated in the March or contributed in some form.
Another area was the women’s suffrage gallery
Selma did not appear to be a very busy place as some of the places were closed there was a shop in the memorial park that had a collection of African styles as well as pieces of clothing from other countries. There were some historical literature for purchase.
The historical third March protected by the National Guard started from the Brown Chapel AME church. The March started with 8000 people and at the end of the 54 mile trail there were 25000 at the steps of the state capital building.
As we drove along the road the guide pointed out the spots where the camps were built for them to replenish with food etc. there were four camps set up. We passed where large cotton fields used to be but there was only smaller ones seem to be in bloom.
Currently this route is four lanes but at the time of the march portions were two lanes.
As we passed the fourth camp site there is a sign identifying the location as the fourth campsite that spot is The City of St. Jude, established in 1934, where there is a catholic hospital, church and school. This is the site of the Stars for freedom rally organized by Harry Belafonte. This rally was to lift the spirits of the marchers and included performance by stars such as Mahalia, Sammy Davis Nina Simone and a host of other performers.
As we came into Montgomery the trail took us through neighborhoods that were destroyed by building of interstate 65 and 85 businesses and homes were just there unoccupied. There are lots of abandoned homes.
As you approach the Court Square there is a statue of Rosa Parks near the Montgomery Central Bank .you pass by the Winter building. Court Square is the site where slave market occurred and the fountain stands where slave auctions took place.
On Dexter Street is the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church where Dr. King served as pastor from 1954 to 1960.
We visited Rosa Parks Museum and noticed the commemorative bricks in front of the entrance. The museum is constructed on the site where she was arrested. These names represent those who believed and supported the efforts of those who participated during the bus boycott.
A newly (2021)erected v shaped black steel spires memorial stands outside west of the entrance.
Exhibits tell the story of the struggles, Ms. Parks’ refusal, the boycott and others related to the fight to desecrate riding the bus. One of the interactive exhibits that though poignant that had me smiling, was the reenactment of her being on the bus. I smiled at how calm and polite she was in her responses to the bus driver and to the police she maintained her dignity. I did not realize she was sitting in the black designated area when she was asked to move.
Pastor A.W. Wilson of the Holt Baptist Church played a significant role in the boycott and his church served as the meeting place for planning of the boycott after Ms. Parks was arrested and jailed.
The Dexter parsonage museum was closed but we were able to visit the porch where after the successful boycott the parsonage was bombed by desegregationists. Dr. Kings’ wife and weeks old daughter were in the back but were not injured.
A visit to Montgomery would not be complete without visiting the National Memorial for Peace and Justice a project of Equal Justice Initiative. There was a beautiful garden that we were able to stroll through.
This garden did not prepare us for the experience we about to have. At the memorial there is a monument with 24 names to include Emmet Till. These represented victims of racial terror lynching that occurred in the 1950s.
There was a security check at the entrance we immediately came upon this sculpture representing the struggles as we walked up a hill.
Continuing up the hill we come into the area where there are 837 columns representing counties where lynchings occurred. On some there are several names and some one name and/or unknown.
Along a side wall were notifications of some names and the reasons they were lynched.
This was a very impactful experience and to think that not all the people lynched, enslaved and terrorized are not accounted for in this memorial.
We also visited the Legacy Museum, The Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum that also is an air bnb on the upper floor and The Freedom Ride Museum.
We had time for a little relaxation on a evening boat ride up the Mississippi River.
Maybe you might want to check out Central restaurant in Montgomery I did.
We will be leaving Montgomery heading to Atlanta.