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Civil rights movement

The Civil Rights Trail

Slavery, race and resistance in Montgomery, Alabama

1. Alabama dock, Montgomery waterfront

Alabama waterfront

The former site of one of the most prominent slave auctions in the country and just steps away from the rail station that trafficked tens of thousands of enslaved people during the height of the slave trade. The site is now the home of the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration.

2. Montgomery Street bus stop

Rosa Parks Bus Stop

It was at a bus stop, at the bottom of Montgomery Street and across the square from Dexter Avenue, that Rosa Parks boarded a bus in December 1955 on a seat reserved for white people. With this one act of defiance, the Montgomery Bus Boycott ensued and the Civil Rights era began. Adjacent to the bus stop is now the Rosa Parks Museum.

3. Court Square Fountain

Court square fountain

At the bottom of Dexter Street is Court Square Fountain, which for much of the 19th century was where the slave trade was based. Slaves were brought up from the Riverfront, opposite the train station, to the slave market in Court Square Fountain. By 1859, there were seven auctioneers registered in the city and three of the four slave depots were along Dexter Street.

4. Greyhound bus station

Greyhound bus station, Montgomery

The Greyhound bus station on South Court Street, just off Court Square, was the scene of one of the worst acts of mob violence during the Civil Rights era, when a mob of white people attacked a bus carrying Freedom Riders in May 1961 with baseball bats and iron pipes. The bus station is now a museum to the Freedom Riders.

5. First Baptist Church

First baptist church

The night after the attack on the Freedom Riders at the Greyhound bus station, a larger mob of 3,000 whites attacked 1,500 people packed into Reverend Ralph Abernathy’s First Baptist Church, on North Ripley Street, who had come to welcome the Freedom Riders.

6. Federal Court House

Federal court house

Around the corner from the bus station was the site of the Federal Court House, where in 1956 Judge Frank Johnson Jnr legalised the desegregation of buses, following the bus boycott, and later declared the Selma to Montgomery march legal and could continue. He also ruled on wider segregation issues and expanded voting rights. The building has been preserved as a museum to honour the judge and his rulings.

7. Winter Building, Dexter Avenue

Winter building, dexter avenue

The Winter Building, at the junction of Dexter Street and Court Square, was home to the Southern Telegraph Company at the outset of the Civil War. It was here, in 1861, that LeRoy Pope Walker, the Confederate States Secretary of War, sent a telegram to General P. G. T. Beauegard to advise him to fire on Fort Sumter. And so by the order, the American Civil War began.

8. Dexter Avenue Baptist Church

Dexter Avenue Baptist Church

Three-quarters of the way up Dexter Avenue is the Baptist Church from where Martin Luther King preached. The church was at the centre of many mass meetings and the coordinating hub for the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

9. Civil Rights Memorial

Civil rights memorial

On the street parallel to Dexter Avenue is the Civil Rights Memorial and the home of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The memorial itself is a granite fountain, with the names of 41 Black people murdered by racists during the Civil Rights era (1954 and 1968). The accompanying museum is as much a homage to those who took part in the Civil Rights Movement as telling the story of its history.

10. Confederate Memorial Monument

Confederate memorial monument

Erected in 1895, and directly in front of the State Capitol, the Confederate Memorial Monument was dedicated to Alabama’s 122,000 Confederate veterans of the Civil War. The presence of the monument has been fiercely criticised, with many calling for it to be removed. In 2015, after the Charleston Church shooting, where a white supremacist murdered nine Black congregants, the Governor ordered the removal of three confederate flags that were part of the monument.

11. Alabama State Capitol

Alabama state capitol

The Alabama State Capitol, situated at the top of Dexter Avenue, was the one-time home of the Confederacy and 100 years later was occupied by the racist and pro-segregationist Governor, George Wallace. As a result, it was the focal point of repeated protests, including being the finishing point for the third Selma to Montgomery march where 25,000 people gathered to hear Martin Luther King’s infamous ‘How Long, Not Long’ speech.

12. Dexter Parsonage

Dexter Baptist Pastorium

A few blocks along from the State Capitol, on South Jackson Street, was where Martin Luther King and his family resided from 1954 to 1960. It was bombed several times during these years, though fortunately no-one was ever injured. It has now been turned into a museum.