Discovering American History in Montgomery

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.

Discovering American History in Montgomery, Alabama.

American History Highlights in Montgomery

The History of Slavery

Montgomery History 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

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

Alabama State Capitol

Alabama State CapitolDirectly 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 

Alabama HistoryRight 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

Rosa Parks Bus Stop BoycottNot 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 

Selma to Montgomery MarchTen 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.

one of my favorite things about living in Montgomery has been the abundance of early American history at every corner. A simple stroll through Montgomery can land you in front of some of the country's most historic sites.

What’s the most historic city you’ve ever visited?

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  • Leah Shoup

    Very interesting! I’m from the South and I tend to forget about all of the historical places to see!

    • I’m the same way! when you live close to something, it’s easy to forget how cool it really is.

  • The South seems to be full of history!! Would love to spend some time there and learn more about the past of the US! We only learn very little in school in Europe (if anything) and most “knowledge” we get is from crappy sitcoms and their Thanksgiving episodes 😉

    • lololol. it’s so funny you say that bout crappy sitcoms! I always wonder what foreigners think of America holidays and customs based on what they see on television. I’d love to hear a European perspective on it!

  • Love this walk through Montgomery with you! Ihad no idea all of these buildings were right next to each other, and I find it especially interesting that the former Confederate White House is smack in the middle of everything. Where did you learn about the fair-skinned slaves? I would like to read more about that history for sure. It could really put a lot of things into perspective for our nation today, too!

    • I completely agree with you Swags! I actually learned about the fair skinned slaves during my tour of the Belle Meade Plantation in Nashville a couple of weeks ago. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

  • I never would have thought about visiting Montgomery, but it really does have so much history! I didn’t realize that the first White House for the Confederacy was located there, and there’s also so much civil rights history as well. Maybe we’ll have to stop there if we make it to a football game in Alabama!

    • I was dying to get to Tuscaloosa, just to say i’ve been there, and of course take a tour of the campus and football stadium. is it weird that i really enjoy walking around college campuses? we took a tour of notre dame when my fiancé was playing in South Bend, IN and it was the most stunning campus i’d ever seen!

      • It’s totally not weird at all! I love visiting college campuses too because a lot of time they’re a lot prettier than what the A&M campus was when I went to school! Speaking of Notre Dame, we’ll be playing them in a few years, and I know that my husband is dying to go to the game. I’m glad that the campus is worth a visit!

  • What an excellent article! I am surprised by the enormous amount of history found in this city. I know next to nothing about the South and its history. I hope one day I will be able to visit those states and learn what makes them unique.

    • It’s been a great experience for me, Ruth. It’s so crazy to think of how much the US has changed over the years. It proves how important the growth of a country really is. can you imagine if slavery still existed today?! i can’t!

  • I really need to explore more of the Eastern US for all the history! Maybe this will be possible as my parents just moved to Kentucky! #WednesdayWanderlust

    • ahh! we lived in kentucky last year for a bit! in bowling green Kentucky actually. Where in Kentucky are your parents moving to?

  • i know very little about US history, so thank you for sharing! i think i would really enjoy visiting a place like this, and my husband would absolutely love it. Huge history buff. I didn’t learn about Rosa Parks in school but I did learn about it on our first long road trip 😉 haha. there’s always so much more to learn though!

    • It’s always so interesting to me to hear what foreign born people think of American history! you’ve been here long enough i’m sure you’ve learned some about it, but what do Auzzie’s back home think of us and our history?

      • oh well, i guess that’s hard to say what we all think, but we really don’t learn about you or your history. i think we know maybe big things, or when it collided with us, but for the most part we learn our own history and of course about the UK as well. we’re not completely ignorant, we just don’t focus on it so i don’t think most people have an opinion either way.