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The Bus Stops Here
Montgomery- Birthplace of Civil Rights Movement
By Ron Kapon, Contributing Travel Editor

Civil Rights Memorial
The Civil Rights Memorial, located in Montgomery, Alabama, bears the names of 40 men, women and children who died during the Civil Rights Movement.
Montgomery, AL - Montgomery, Alabama, is the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement by all accounts and historical commentary, and is a destination that all should have on their travel itineraries, certainly those interested in the history of our great country and the freedoms we cherish so dearly. But, sadly, I had never been to Alabama before my recent trip and stood among those who were seemingly satisfied with newspaper accounts, television specials and Hollywood's version of what had taken place there. Growing up, it was unavoidable to be familiar with then-Governor George Wallace and his prejudicial political views. On the other hand, "Bear" Bryant was a more recognizable figure for me and and I was very much aware of the football programs and schedules of both the the University of Alabama and Auburn.

It was almost required that I at least read a great deal about the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Selma to Montgomery March. That was the editorial version and, now that I have made the journey, was totally insufficient to prepare me for what awaited.

Getting there from New York was relatively easy, but I had to change planes in Atlanta for the one hour trip to Montgomery. The Embassy Suites Hotel was my destination because of its downtown locale and convenient access to the Civic Center and historic Union Station, a few blocks distant from the State Capitol (a National Historical Landmark) as well as other places of interest. "Station" is a misnomer in this instance since it has not been a journey's end or beginning for some time. Actually, it is now the home of the Montgomery Area Visitors Center. (See contact information below.)

Rosa Parks Museum
The Rosa Parks Library and Museum is located on the campus of Troy State University.
There is much to see in Montgomery and visions of Gone With the Wind danced in my head as I went through Atlanta, but the fact of the matter is that I had come to Montgomery (population- 200,000) to learn more about the Montgomery Bus Boycott, to uncover what the media might not have conveyed over the years. My lesson began and ended at the Rosa Parks Library and Museum, which was opened in December, 2000, and is located on the campus of Troy State University. It was back on December 1, 1955, that a 42-year-old African American seamstress, Rosa Parks, engaged in a simple act of civil disobedience, a step that launched a pivotal event in the Civil Rights Movement. On that day, she refused to yield her seat on a public bus to a white man and was subsequently arrested. Four days later, on December 5th, she was found guilty.

Rosa Parks
The Rosa Parks memorial
That immediately gave rise to a boycott of the city bus line by the African- American community and, for 381 days, they walked or organized car pools through their churches. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually ruled that segregation of bus service was unconstitutional, and a critical conclusion had come to a personal exploit intended to make an individual statement. Now, nearly half a century later, visitors to the 7,000 square foot museum are provided a state-of-the art interactive building located on the site where she was arrested. Now, the 89-year-old Mrs. Parks lives in Detroit. The current Museum Director, Georgette Norman, was a nine-year old preacher's daughter when the boycott began...today, she is a compelling storyteller.

Nearby is the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, the first pulpit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the center for the bus boycott. In 1965, Dr. King ended the Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights March at the State Capitol steps, just up the street from the church. Right around the corner is the Civil Rights Memorial that bears the names of 40 men, women and children who died during the Civil Rights Movement and there is a curved black granite memorial wall behind the memorial, at the Southern Poverty Law Center building, founded by two local lawyers to pursue equal opportunities for minorities and the poor. They helped implement the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Their purpose, from the outset, was three-fold ... promote tolerance, seek justice, and monitor hate.

Dexter Avenue
The Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church was at the center of the bus boycott.
Although the focal point of this trip was the Civil Rights Movement, Montgomery does offer other things to see. For example, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival is the fifth largest in the world. It is worth spending two hours aboard the Betsy Ann Riverboat, an authentic stern-wheel riverboat docked in downtown Montgomery, listening to jazz. I am not, admittedly, a country and western music fan, but many of you who are will want to see the Hank Williams Memorial, his tribute statue and the Hank Williams Museum. It is also worth taking a stroll along Old Alabama Town, a collection of over 40 restored Alabama structures depicting life in the 19th and early 20th centuries. While time constraints did not permit me to visit the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum, I am told that it is certainly worth a few moments of your time to get a "feel" for how it was during WWI, when. F. Scott met Zelda while he was stationed in Montgomery, after which they wed and resided in the house that the Museum occupies today.

True students of the Civil Rights Movement will undoubtedly want to go to Selma, 54 miles to the west. It was the battlefront for the Voters Registration Movement that culminated in the Selma to Montgomery March of 1965. To the east (40 Miles) is Tuskegee and historic Tuskegee University where Booker T. Washington was the school's first President and the famed scientist, Dr. George Washington Carver, worked. I am told that there is also an outstanding tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen and their contributions to our success in WWII.

If your travels take you within striking distance of Atlanta, you must take the time to visit these landmarks in our history. I only scratched the surface and fully intend to return one day soon.


When You Go: Contact the Montgomery Area Visitors Center at 1-800-240-9452 for further information.


Ron Kapon is seeking wine tasters for the New York Tasters Guild. Please go to www.tastersguildny.com or email him at Ron@tastersguildny.com.