December 8: Montgomery

Few places symbolize the African American struggle for basic civil rights more than Montgomery, Alabama, where for over a year thousands of black men and women chose to walk rather than ride the city’s segregated buses.




We began our tour of Montgomery at the Rosa Parks museum. The museum tells the story of the bus boycott using a multi-media interactive approach: among the highlights were a re-enactment of Park’s arrest aboard a replica of the bus and numerous original documents.









Our next stop: an external exhibit covering the outside wall at the now closed Greyhound Bus Station. Here the SNCC Freedom Riders were attacked by a waiting Klan mob; several were wounded severely during the attack. (When the police chief was asked where his men were that day, he responded that it was Mother’s Day, and he had given them the day off to spend with their mothers.)






We then headed up Dexter Avenue, and the students,. getting into the spirit, broke into freedom songs, clapping and singing “This Little Light of Mine” and “Oh, Freedom.”



We soon arrived at Dexter Ave Bapist Church, where King pastored from 1954 to 1960 and where he and other Montgomery leaders met to organize the boycott. The pews are the same pews in which King’s congregation sat years ago, listening to Kings sermons, singing to keep their spirits up. The pulpit at Dexter was the same pulpit from which King preached, and in the basement was the pulpit that the congregation carried up to the steps of the capitol for King’s “How Long” speech at the end of the Selma to Montgomery march. Our next stop was the Dexter Avenue parsonage – the small home where the Kings lived during the boycott.The building is now a national historic landmark, and houses much of the original furniture, including the dining room table around which King and other MIA members sat to discuss strategy.Dexter-Ave-Baptist-Church







Law-Ctr-Mem-MuseumWall-of-ToleranceWe ended our day at the Southern Poverty Law Center Memorial and Museum. Designed by Maya Linn, the Civil Rights memorial powerfully commemorates the martyrs to the movement, while the museum itself tells their stories.





In the rear of the museum is the Wall of Tolerance, which records the names of individuals who pledge to commit to work against hate and injustice. We all entered our names, and watched as they flowed down the room size wall.




Student Responses:

Aaron: The Civil Rights Memorial center was one of the more memorable experiences that I have had on this trip. Even after a long day of traveling and walking around in miserable weather, I was rejuvenated by what this center represented. It had a great monument outside of the center that told a story of the Civil Rights Movement through a series of incidents and dates while covered in a constant flow of water. Inside, the exhibits on the walls told the stories of people who lost their lives during the Civil Rights Movement, a sacrifice for a bigger cause. These were stories that not only the common person in this country have not heard, but stories that as someone who has studied the Civil Rights movement extensively, I had not heard. As we moved throughout the center, there were stories on the wall about people who lost their lives not during the Civil Rights Movement, but more recently. These men and women had died in the same sort of senseless ways that people lost their lives during the Movement, showing that we still have a long way to go. Some of the stories that I read I remembered hearing in the news when I was younger, and it really touched me.The last part of the museum was the Wall of Tolerance. It was a large wall that had names projected onto the wall to appear to be falling. There were computers where you could enter your name and have it projected on the wall but in doing so you were making a commitment to tolerance. Seeing this many names that were in the system, although only representing a small percentage of this nation’s population, left me with the sense that we as a group are not the only ones who have the same passion of doing what is right.

Peter: At the Dexter Ave Baptist church, it was quite an experience to stand at the same podium that Martin Luther King Jr. stood at as he took command of his followers and demanded change from a nation and from a world. That was powerful – to place my hand in the same spot where he did and make that connection to him through the past. The home of Martin Luther King was also a very special place. It was sobering to say the least to touch the spot on the front porch of the home where the bomb went off that was meant to kill MLK and his family, to be able to see his actual belongings and to be able to touch them was an awesome feeling. At the Southern Poverty Law Center, it was humbling for several reasons. First, the exhibits had a lot to do with those that lost their lives in the struggle for civil rights in the twentieth century. All of these individuals were cut down because of their love of mankind and that’s a pretty powerful thing. The wall of names that the museum had was also powerful, basically what it is, is a place where people can show their commitment for the struggle for equal rights no matter what the situation is. People added their names to the list of names that rotated on a screen through computers. But you could feel it in the air that people weren’t really just putting their names down on the list. They really meant what they were doing. It was something that was unspoken, but surely felt. One thing that also struck about the museum was the fact that it had more security than any other place we had visited. I do know that the Southern Poverty Law Center has had some high profile court cases against hate groups such as the kkk, but the fact that this heightened security was so visible reminded me where we are. We are definitely in the south, a world where the ghosts of Jefferson Davis and Jim Crow still linger in the shadows.

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