Montgomery, Alabama has been getting news attention lately for the opening of two new buildings that symbolize serious components of U.S. history.
On April 26, 2018, The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is a visually moving monument built in remembrance of over 4,000 African American men, women and children who were victims of lynching. The memorial also has a fellow new structure opening on the same day, called The Legacy Museum: from Enslavement to Mass Incarceration. This facility focuses on the impact of slavery and racial injustice.
I got to visit Montgomery the previous December, while these new places were still under construction. On my trip, I learned that the city has been the location for significant milestones in America. Montgomery also has some other surprises, too. It’s home to cultural institutions, famous icons, and a food scene that has embraced its diverse residents. Here is what I saw and did.
From Civil War to Civil Rights Movement
Two parallel opposite events have happened in Montgomery. Over two centuries ago, the city was where officials from Southern states met to voice their opinions at the State Capital building about succeeding from the Northern ones, in what would eventually spark the Civil War. The decide for succession took place here, with word apparently sent from Montgomery to South Carolina’s Fort Sumter; it would lead to the shot that started the war.
Moving forward to a new century, Montgomery would be a major witness to social change. It would be where two significant figures in the Civil Rights Movement emerged. Rosa Parks committed her act of social defiance of getting arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat. At that very bus stop location, the Rosa Parks Museum at Troy University commemorates her act that would spark the Montgomery Bus Boycott. See a visual re-enactment of that moment along with exhibits of photos and artifacts relating to Parks’ arrest and the subsequent bus boycott.
The Rev. Dr. Martin King Jr. also has strong ties to Montgomery. Go on a tour of Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, a still active parish and National Historic Landmark where King served as its pastor from 1954 to 1960. The tour includes a visit to King’s office, where he conveyed plans for the boycott, along with the church’s interior. Also, visit the Dexter Parsonage Museum, formerly the residence of the church’s pastors but in particular reflecting the years when King and his family lived here.
Inside a former Greyhound bus station, the Freedom Rides Museum chronicles the 1961 Freedom Riders’ journey by bus through the South and their encounters with mob violence along the way.
Two Montgomery residents are honored at their respective museums. The Hank Williams Museum honors the late singer/songwriter with displays of his stage wardrobe, TV footage, private photos, instruments, and even the Cadillac he passed away in. Then pay your respects to Williams and his wife, Audrey, at their graves in Oakwood Annex Cemetery, a half-hour drive from the museum.
The Fitzgerald Museum was once a home for F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and their daughter, “Scottie.” Zelda, a Montgomery native, gets her due here for her accomplishments; her paintings, family photos, and writing are on display, along with her husband’s works. It’s nice, too, because Zelda is often known for her illness, but this museum overshadows this aspect by showing the work that she’s done.
One might not associate Shakespeare with Montgomery right away, but, yes, his plays are the thing here. As a performance venue, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival not only presents works by the Bard but also stages classics, musicals, and children’s productions.
A Dining Enclave
Montgomery’s restaurant scene is as varied as its locations and a diner’s interest. You can go upscale casual or low key but fully stuffed.
Have biscuits as your morning meal at Cahawba House with their “build your own breakfast” menu featuring this floury food and a number of add-ons. Inside a former warehouse, Central offers fine New American cuisine fusing traditional Southern cooking with multicultural influences. On the menu, look out for fett soux fries, a delicious smoked and fried pork belly that glazed with South Carolina barbecue sauce and served with a peach chutney.
Derk’s Filet & Vine dishes out deli-style servings of Southern fixings with ample table seating. Started by a Greek immigrant over a century ago, Chris’ Hot Dogs remains a family-run eatery liked for its hot dogs and chicken sandwiches. Nowadays, Montgomery has a Korean population, so head to places such as Ginza Japanese & Korean Cuisine, noted for its ramen and barbecue.