The South is one region of the US I was dying to get to know more about. Spending my Summer living in Montgomery has given me the opportunity to do just that. A while back I shared with you all (ya’ll if I’m speaking proper southern) about venturing to Auburn, Alabama to explore the stunning Chewalca State Park. While I love the adventure of getting outdoors I have to say that hands down, one of my favorite things about living in Montgomery has been the abundance of early American history found at every corner. A simple stroll through downtown Montgomery can take you through some of the most famous and epic parts of American History.
American History Highlights in Montgomery
The History of Slavery
In the early 1800’s, Alabama, like its neighboring states had ideal ground and weather conditions for the surging need for cotton. At this point cotton was a huge money making operation but was also very labor intensive. Soon Alabama became one of the major destinations for African-American slaves who were being shipped to the southern states and sold into slavery. Strangely enough, it was not uncommon for slaves to have straight sandy hair, blue eyes and fair complexions. Some were of as little as 1/64th African decent – or 98.4% white, but still considered African-American and treated as slaves.
First White House of the Confederacy
The Confederacy is a huge part of Southern history and culture. The United States, as we all know, declared its independence from Britain on July 4th, 1776. The country remained united until in November 1860 when Abraham Lincoln was elected President on a platform which opposed the expansion of slavery. In 1861, seven southern states (South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas) declared their succession from the United States. This is what would soon lead to the Civil War. Shortly after the war began four more southern states (Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee) would join the Confederacy. After nearly 4 years and half a million deaths, the Confederate forces surrendered and the Confederacy dissolved.
The house pictured above was used as the First White House, or executive residence, for Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, and his family. The Confederate capitol would eventually move to Richmond, Virginia. Today the home is listed on the National Register of Historic places, is free of charge to visit and is open weekdays from 8am-4pm, and Saturdays 9am-4pm.
Alabama State Capitol
Directly across the street from the First White House of the Confederacy is the beautiful Alabama State Capitol. Architecturally, the building is Greek Revival in style with some Beaux-Arts influences. In Wisconsin, the State Capitol is home to the Legislature, Senate, and Governor’s office. In Alabama, the Governor and numerous state offices reside in the capitol building while the Legislature makes its home across the street in the Alabama State House. The Capitol is open for self-guided tours Monday-Friday 9am-4pm, and is free of charge.
Alabama Department of Archives & History
Right next door from the First White House of the Confederacy is the Alabama Department of Archives and History. The ADAH is the official repository of archival records for the entire state of Alabama. Permanent exhibits at the Museum of Alabama include The Land of Alabama, introducing the geology and natural resources that helped shape the state’s history, and The First Alabamians, featuring artifacts, murals, and a diorama that tell the inspiring story of fourteen thousand years of Native American culture.
By far, my favorite part was their newest exhibit called Alabama Voices that opened in February 2014. This exhibit covers the unfolding of Alabama history from the dawn of the 1700s to the beginning of the 21st century. The exhibit was huge, interactive, and extremely interesting and thorough. Early American history is some of my favorite history, so I loved walking through the Civil Rights sections of the exhibit. The ADAH is open Monday-Saturday 8:30am-4:30pm and is free of charge.
Rosa Parks Bus Stop Boycott
Not a single person goes through school in the US without learning of the story of Rosa Parks, who famously refused to give up her bus seat in the colored section to a white person after the white section was full. Parks’ defiance lead her to her arrest, but also sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the beginning of the modern civil rights movement.
The Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March
Ten years after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, the struggle for African-American Cilvil Rights continued. This time the struggle was for giving African-Americans equal voting rights. Martin Luther King led thousands of nonviolent demonstrators on a 54-mile, 5 day march from Selma, Alabama to the steps of the state capitol in Montgomery. On 6 August, in the presence of King and other civil rights leaders, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Reading the quote from MLK written on the bottom of the plaque pictured above literally gives me chills.