Monday, April 14, 2014


Alabama was a key state in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Many events that are now written into our history books occurred in this state, including Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus in 1954 and the resulting Montgomery bus boycott that lasted more than a year and led to the desegregation of the city's buses.  It was in Montgomery that Martin Luther King, Jr., a young minister at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, helped to organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization that played a key role in the Civil Rights Movement. It was from a jail in Alabama that King, who had been arrested during anti-segregation protests, wrote his 1963 "Letter from Birmingham Jail," which defended non-violent resistance to unjust laws and racism and became a key document in the movement. A few months later, police used fire hoses and dogs to control demonstrators in Birmingham, and the images spread rapidly around the world, garnering much sympathy and respect for the civil rights protesters. Later that year, a bomb exploded in a Birmingham church, killing four girls attending Sunday School. In March 1965, protesters on a march from Selma to Montgomery in support of voting rights were stopped by police using tear gas, whips, and clubs, resulting in 50 people being hospitalized and spurring on the enactment of the Voting Rights Act a few months later. A third attempt at a Selma to Montgomery March was successful, ending on March 25, 1965, with 25,000 protestors at the base of the capitol steps.

Knowing these facts makes a visit to the state's beautiful Greek-revival capitol building even more interesting.
Jefferson Davis stood under the front portico of this building on February 18, 1861, and took the Oath of Office of the President of the Confederate States of America.
Most of the capitol buildings we've visited have statues honoring famous people. I liked this one in Montgomery honoring law enforcement officers:

Here is James Marion Sims (1813-1883), the Father of Modern Gynecology. He developed a way of treating vesicovaginal fistula, a severe form of childbirth obstruction, but he did it by experimenting on African-American slaves.

John Allan Wyeth (1845-1922) was a Confederate soldier who became a prominent surgeon after the war and later greatly improved the way medical schools operated.
Of course, there has to be a memorial to Jefferson Davis (1808-1889) even though he was born in Kentucky and raised in Mississippi and Louisiana. He served as the President of the Confederate States of America from 1862 to 1865, and the first White House of the Confederacy is just a few blocks from the Montgomery Capitol.
The current capitol building, built in 1850-1851, served temporarily as the first Confederate Capitol Building until the capital was moved to Richmond, Virginia. The Confederate States of America Constitution was drawn up within these walls in 1861. Over 100 years later, the previously mentioned third March from Selma to Montgomery ended at the base of this three-story tall cantilevered staircase:
For some reason, the person greeting travelers at the door is Lurleen Burns Wallace, wife of the extremely popular Governor (and later Presidential candidate) George Wallace. Lurleen succeeded her husband as governor in 1967 because the state constitution prohibited him from serving consecutive terms, and he planned to use her as a puppet to continue his own agenda. That man was devious. However, she died in office after serving less than a year and a half. Apparently she had been diagnosed with uterine cancer in 1961. Her doctor biopsied some tissue after the caesarean delivery of her last child, but the doctor told her husband rather than her, as was the custom at the time. George didn't bother telling Lurleen, and she got no follow-up care. In 1965, she had issues that took her back to the doctor, where she heard the stunning news for the first time. She began radiation therapy and then had a hysterectomy just before beginning her campaign for governor.
Of course, all of this was kept very quiet. Who would vote for her if they knew her grim prognosis? Early in her term, a tumor was removed from her colon and she had a second round of radiation therapy, but the cancer spread to her liver and lungs, and her condition deteriorated rapidly until she weighed less than 80 pounds. Meanwhile, her secret had been revealed, but George was persistent in stating that she had beaten the disease.
After she died on May 8th, 1968, her body was placed in state in the capitol (in an open casket, expressly against her wishes), and 21,000 mourners lined up for the viewing. On the day of her funeral, all Montgomery schools and many businesses closed.

This tragic story didn't do much to enhance my affection for George Wallace, the man who said, "If any demonstrator ever lays down in front of my car, it'll be the last car he'll ever lay down in front of." (Hey, George, that should be "lies/lie down.")  He also said, "I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."
I think George Wallace knew an awful lot about tyranny.

Well. On to more pleasant things, such as the stunning dome.  Here is a shot of the dome taken from the floor beneath it:
. . . and a close-up of the small stained glass window in the very top:

Eight beautiful paintings by Scottish-born painter Roderick MacKenzie (1865-1941) encircle the dome, each representing an important event or period in Alabama's history. These were installed in 1930:
"Secession and the Confederacy: Inauguration of President Jefferson Davis, 1861"

"Prosperity follows development of resources: agriculture, commerce and industry, 1874-1930"

"Hostile meeting of DeSoto, Spanish explorer, and Tuscaloosa Indian Chieftain, 1540"

"France establishing first white colony in Alabama under Iberville and Bienville, Mobile, 1702-1711"

"Surrender of William Weatherford, Hostile Creek Leader, to General Andrew Jackson, 1814"

"Pioneer home-seekers led into the Alabama wilderness by Sam Dale, 1816"

"Governor Wm W. Bibb and committee drafting the first state constitution at Huntsville, 1819"

"Wealth and Leisure produce the 'Golden Period' -- Antebellum life in Alabama, 1840-1860"

Southern delegates met in this Senate Chamber to organize the Confederate States of America in 1861:

The House Chamber is just across the rotunda hall from the Senate is where the Ordinance of Secession from the Union was voted on in January 1861:
I really love this chandelier:

Visiting the Montgomery Capitol building feels a bit like time travel. There isn't really any embarrassment about what happened here in the 1860s or in the 1950s and 1960s. While the capitol building in Atlanta at least hung a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr., in the foyer, this elegant building does nothing to acknowledge the man who preached just a few blocks away, but they do honor the surgeon who practiced his techniques on slaves and the governor who proclaimed "Segregation forever!"  Bizarre.


  1. Dr. Sims experimenting on slaves? Neglecting to mention the cancer to your wife that will take her life? History is often ugly, but never boring!

  2. Yeah, the unapologetic honoring of the past without acknowledging the problems and recognizing the contributions of the minorities, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., was overwhelmingly evident. It would have been scary to be black and a resident of Alabama.