Thursday, April 10, 2014


Montgomery is the capital of Alabama, and with a population of just over 200,000 it is the state's second-largest city, just behind Birmingham. In spite of its population, it has a very small-town feel.

It was rainy when we were there, so very few people were out and about as we took a nice stroll downtown next to the Alabama River. One of the things I really enjoyed was a series of murals on the buildings. I come from a city filled with public art like this, so I'm always on the lookout for it when we travel. These are especially fun paintings:
This giant fish looks like he about to swallow not just Jonah, but the entire Garden of Eden and the stable with Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus:

Such interesting juxtaposing. I wish I knew a little bit more about the art and artist:
The words on the red tablet on the left read in the photo below: "God is love. We have all sinned. The wages of sin is death. There is no condemnation for those who believe in Jesus. God so loved the world He gave his only begotten son. Whosoever believes in Him shall never die but have everlasting life." The painting shows Christ's body being taken down from the cross.  I assume the big rooster on the right is the cock crowing thrice.

A lot of the historic area surrounding what is known as Court Square is undergoing rehabilitation, and if it all turns out to be as beautiful as this Renaissance Revival-style Central Bank Building, which is right across the street from the murals above, it's going to be very nice.  This was the first "ironfront" building in Alabama.

Central Bank, a major supporter of the Confederacy, was bankrupt at the end of the Civil War. Other banks and then a jeweler occupied this building until it was acquired and restored by the Arts Council in 1985.

The focal point of the downtown area is the 1895 Court Square Fountain, topped by a statue of Hebe, the daughter of Zeus and Hera and wife of Hercules.  She is the Goddess of Youth (as in young people, not as in never aging) and the cupbearer of the gods and goddesses on Mount Olympus. The statue was built on the site where, prior to the Civil War, slaves and livestock were brought in from the Alabama River and auctioned off or traded:
This Greek goddess seems to be a bit out of place in downtown Montgomery, but what do I know?

Somewhat ironically, just across the street from the fountain/former slave market is the spot where in 1955 an African-American woman named Rosa Parks got on the bus and sat in the colored section. However, the white section of the bus was full, and when a white man boarded and wanted her seat, Rosa refused to give it to him, which she was required to do by law. Consequently, she was arrested and hauled off to jail. In her autobiography Rosa Parks: My Story, she wrote, "People always said I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I wasn't tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."  
Rosa was bailed out by the NAACP, and four days later she was found guilty and fined $14. The famous Montgomery Bus Boycott began the day of Rosa's trial and continued for 381 days until the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that public transportation be integrated. Her arrest and the subsequent boycott are considered the official beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.

All of this is history is located just down the street from the Montgomery State Capitol Building, the Dexter Baptist Church where Martin Luther King Jr. was pastor, and the White House of the Confederacy. It is one of those places I had read a lot about (see my post about books to read here), and it was exciting to stand in this spot where so much change in the South was initiated.

In Rosa Parks: My Story, the famous civil rights activist tells not just the bus story that we're all familiar with, but she also writes about what life was like for her as a child, how life changed for her after her arrest, and the ongoing issues for her and other African-Americans through the 1980s, all of which added context and depth to my understanding of her courageous refusal to give up her seat.

I was most intrigued by Rosa's active involvement in early civil rights activities. At the time of her arrest on the bus, she was the secretary of the local chapter of the NAACP and was well-aware of their need for a test case for desegregating the city buses. She was a strong, moral, intelligent, and soft-spoken but direct woman, perfect in every way for the Supreme Court challenge to segregation.

Although written for older elementary school-aged children, this 200-page book is a wonderful introduction for people of all ages to the Civil Rights Movement, and to the African-American women's movement as well. 


  1. Lots of history along that small corridor between the fountain and the capital building: headquarters of the Confederacy, authorizing the start of the Civil War, Governor Wallace, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King. And yet it still seems pretty sleepy.

  2. That's quite an impressive fountain. To bad it's the fountain FOR youth, not of youth. Isn't youth wasted on the young anyway?

    Hard to imagine a time like the times of Rosa Parks.