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Trip Report Trip report -- Montgomery, Alabama

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As part of a larger trip to Atlanta, decided to take a day-long side jaunt to Montgomery, Alabama. Here’s a report, since Fodor’s doesn’t cover this city.

Took a Greyhound bus out and back, which takes about 3-4 hours each way. First, note that Montgomery’s bus station is a good ways from downtown, well to the southwest. And trying to get a cab to come out and take me downtown was tough – after 45 minutes as a no-show and an admonition from the dispatcher after a second call to “be patient,”, decided to catch a passing city bus, which requires two transfers before reaching the capitol building area and goes through a lot of scruffy neighborhoods. Not so bad during mid-morning, though, and people were helpful getting me transferred to the right buses on route. The immediate downtown has very little beyond government buildings and attractions to see, as what exists of the downtown business section contains many boarded-up businesses, so I didn’t have a sit-down lunch or poke around stores, as there were very few options. Saw the following, all within an easy walk of each other in the immediate downtown:

-State Capitol Building. If you like your capitols very austere and plain, this one’s for you. This is an attractive enough Greek Revival style domed edifice from the outside with a few statues scattered on the surrounding lawn. Inside, there’s almost nothing in terms of ornament, statuary, paintings, and the trappings one usually finds in such places. The most interesting rooms to see were the two old legislature halls (which had Civil War historical interest) and the old archives room (containing the most architectural ornament), all on the second floor. The rotunda has some OK murals around the perimeter. There’s been some renovation here in past, which may still be going on in limited touch-up capacity. Seen via self-guided tours, free.

-The legislature now meets in the Alabama State House, a newer building behind the capitol. Saw both the House and Senate chambers there, which were of recent vintage and painfully ordinary. Oddly enough, one cannot access the Senate public viewing gallery via elevator. Free, self-guided.

-The First White House of the Confederacy was where Jefferson Davis and his family resided during the brief period that Montgomery served as the Confederacy’s capital. It’s an attractive early 19th century building incongruously surrounded by the big government monoliths in the area. It has several period furnishings and decorative items, as well as plenty of Davis’s personal effects, a pleasing example of its type. Seen via self-guided tours, free.

-The Hank Williams Museum is presumably a must if you’re heavily into this country artist, otherwise maybe not so much. It has loads of personal items and memorabilia, including records and instruments as well as the Cadillac car Williams died in (the museum says from a heart attack) at age 29. I thought the $8.00 admission was steep for what you get here.

-The Rosa Parks Library and Museum was excellent, and for someone like me who knew little about the Montgomery Bus Boycott of the 1950s, this was fascinating. It describes the circumstances surrounding and during the boycott in great detail, and features a period city bus that within its windows vividly recreates via film projections Parks’s civil disobedience and subsequent arrest on the bus. The $5.50 price was fair. Well worth it, the best attraction in the city.

-Allied to this was a tour of the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church. It’s a late 1800s brick church, with a relatively prosaic interior. This was where Martin Luther King had his first pastor’s job out of college, and was the first test case for his non-violent protest style during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. There’s a large, attractive mural on the lower level that depicts the boycott and King’s life in general – maybe not a technical masterpiece as murals go, but very affecting in content. The sanctuary upstairs is pleasantly attractive, not especially ornate. Seen via hour-long tour at somewhat limited hours (at 10, 11, 1, 2, 3, and when I was there, no one answered the door for a tour at 11 or 1 – but fortunately did get to see the 3:00 tour), and the $2 charge is modest. Definitely worth doing.

-Also splendid was the memorial fountain outside the Civil Rights Memorial and Center, just down the street from the Dexter Avenue Church. This was designed by Maya Lin, who also produced the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC. It’s a black granite entity consisting of a back wall and forward fountain basin; the latter is flattened like a circular table and on its top contains the names of several people killed during the civil rights movement in the South during the 50s and 60s. A very elegant and moving piece of public art, absolutely a must-see.

Getting a cab from downtown back to the bus station worked out better. I walked to what appears to be one of the few downtown hotels, the Embassy Suites, and asked to have a taxi called. It came shortly afterward, and the ride to the bus station was relatively quick and easy.

Had there been more time and access to a car, I would have considered including some sights located outside this immediate downtown perimeter to varying degrees: the Dexter Parsonage, Old Alabama Town, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum, and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. But this made for a worthwhile day trip, especially for the civil rights related attractions.

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