A small museum preserves the house where Dr. Martin Luther King lived during the Montgomery bus boycott.
A small museum preserves the house where Dr. Martin Luther King lived during the Montgomery bus boycott.

No other name is so closely linked to the Civil Rights movement as Montgomery, Alabama. A Civil Rights traveler can visit the most important Civil Rights sites just by touring the cities where Dr. King lived and made history.

Martin Luther King was the senior pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church (now Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church) during a key moment of Civil Rights history, the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. It was sparked by the arrest of Rosa Parks, a 43-year-old seamstress, who refused to give up her seat to a white man, as required by the era’s Jim Crow laws.

As a relatively new resident, King became the spokesman for the protest, and a symbol. He received dozens of threatening calls a day, and his home, the church’s parsonage, was firebombed.

  • Civil Rights travelers must visit the Parsonage Museum which is open for tours by appointment. They’ll enter a homey scene from the 1950s, and see the mark on the porch left by the bomb which smashed through a living room window. The Kings’ 10-week-old daughter was sleeping in an adjacent room at the time. King later wrote that he nearly lost his courage at that moment, wondering if the boycott and the larger struggle for Civil Rights were worth endangering his family. History records the answer.
  • Those who died during Selma and other protests are remembered at a moving monument at the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Civil Rights Memorial, designed by Maya Lin, best known for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., lists their names. King, of course, is included, and so is the Biblical quote he cited during his “I Have a Dream” speech: “until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Fittingly, the names of the fallen are covered with a thin sheet of rolling water.
  • The Bus Boycott, an unprecedented community-wide movement for equality, is honored in the Rosa Parks museum. Visitors enter a vintage city bus and watch a video showing how one woman’s act of defiance made a difference.
  • Montgomery, Alabama’s state capital, was where many of the state’s discriminatory laws were passed into law. It was also the endpoint of the Selma-to-Montgomery march. The march, which made international headlines, finally reached the statehouse steps after violence and murder. It was here that King, addressing a crowd of more than 25,000, gave his “How Long? Not Long” speech.

Guidebook

Montgomery travel info: Download a free MP3 Civil Rights walking tour and map here

Alabama state travel info

Hotels

Lodging can be tight here during special events and when the Alabama legislature’s in session.

Renaissance Montgomery Hotel and Spa It’s one of the city’s newest, busiest and biggest hotels, and most comfortable. Near the riverfront park and convention center. 201 Tallapoosa Street, Montgomery, 334/481-5000. TripAdvisor average rate: $174

Red Bluff Cottage Bed and Breakfast For real Southern hospitality, try something homier. This four bedroom B&B features antiques and wireless Internet. 551 Clay Street, Montgomery, 334/264-0056. Rates from: $110

Dining

Chris’ Hotdog

Why come to Alabama for hotdogs? Because there’s a rich tradition of Southern hotdog joints. This classic diner has served up delicious redhots, fries and burgers for nearly a century.  138 Dexter Avenue, Montgomery, 334/265-6850.

City Grill

Look for lobbyists wining and dining legislators at this Montgomery institution. The oyster salad is classic. 8147 Vaughn Road, 334/244-0960.