September 1, 2021

Explore Montgomery’s Civil Rights Trail

4 min read

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement changed the course of history in America forever. Many of the places that created the environment for such monumental change are right here in our own backyard. Alabama’s role in the Civil Rights Movement is undeniable. All across the state, our cities and towns became the backdrop for sit-ins, marches, demonstrations, and protests that opened the world’s eyes to the inequality, injustice, and bigotry prevalent throughout our country. Nearly 70 years later, the sacrifices many Americans made to advance the cause for equality are more important than ever. And now more than ever, it’s important to reflect on that history. 

Spanning 120 landmarks across 15 Southern states (plus Washington D.C.), the U.S. Civil Rights Trail allows individuals to follow the story of thousands of brave Americans fighting for change. The recently released official U.S. Civil Rights Trail book takes visitors on a journey through school integration, protest marches, freedom rides, and sit-ins, but the best way to learn is to visit the sites themselves on a civil rights themed road trip. 

In Alabama alone, take a road trip to see 8 different cities and learn about the role each played in the movement. Alabama’s destinations include Anniston, Monroeville, Scottsboro, Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma, and Tuskegee. If you don’t have time to complete the entire road trip, it’s easy to take a day trip or weekend to explore a city at a time.

Here’s your guide to exploring the Civil Rights Trail in Montgomery:

(This is part of a series on Alabama’s Civil Rights Trail)

Alabama State Capitol

A lot of history happened here. Visit the site where 25,000 people gathered at the end of the third march from Selma to Montgomery and Dr. King gave his famous “How Long, Not Long” speech. The same building also housed the office of famous segregationist Governor George Wallace.

(Art Meripol/Contributed)

Famous Churches

There are several churches in Montgomery that played important roles in the Civil Right Movement. Located within a 10-minute drive of one other, start your tour at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, the very church where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. served as pastor from 1954–1960. The church also served as a major planning site for the Montgomery Bus Boycott. A 4-minute drive or 11-minute walk away is First Baptist Church on Ripley Street, another popular spot for organizers of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Freedom Rides. Complete the tour at Holt Street Memorial Baptist Church, where 5,000 people gathered to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the newly elected President of the Montgomery Improvement Association, give the speech that inspired the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Holt Street Baptist Church (Art Meripol/Contributed)

Museum & Memorials

Montgomery’s museums and memorials commemorate the past and simultaneously bring attention to the work still left to be done in order to achieve true equity. Start by visiting the Civil Rights Memorial, a black granite table that records the names of those who died fighting for civil rights between 1954 and 1968. The memorial sits adjacent to the Civil Rights Memorial Center, which includes exhibits, educational activities, a theater, and the Wall of Tolerance.

After visiting the memorial, head to the sites of two major events impacting the Civil Rights Movement. The Rosa Parks Museum marks the specific location where Ms. Parks was arrested after refusing to give up her bus seat, thus starting an entire movement. The museum, sponsored by Troy University, includes historical artifacts including the original fingerprint from Ms. Parks’ arrest, police reports of the incident, and a 1950s-era Montgomery city bus, similar to the one Ms. Parks boarded. At the Freedom Rides Museum, you can see the site where 20 young people faced attacks after stepping off the bus at the Montgomery Greyhound Station. The museum is housed in the bus station that’s been fully restored to its 1961 appearance.

The Rosa Parks Museum (Art Meripol/Contributed)

Looking Forward

One of the reason’s Montgomery is a must-stop on the Civil Rights Trail is for its commitment to carrying the legacy of the movement into the future. The Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum tells the full story of America’s racial injustice starting from slavery and continuing to today’s issues of racially motivated mass incarceration and police violence. Going hand in hand with the Legacy Museum is the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The six-acre memorial site recognizes the thousands of lynchings that occurred in the U.S. The memorial includes 800 hanging steel monuments representing the lives lost to lynchings.

Read about Birmingham’s Civil Right’s Trail here.

visit to montgomery

(National Memorial for Peace and Justice/Facebook)

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