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It can be said that Montgomery, Alabama is a living history book. This Southern city has been a witness to events that shaped the course of our nation, from the Southern states seceding from the Union to ignite the Civil War, to the arrest of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott evoking the Civil Rights Movement. In April of 2018, new pages were added, with the openings of two strong visual reminders: The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which recognizes more than 4,400 African American men, women and children who were victims of lynching between 1877 and 1950, and The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, which is situated at a former warehouse where slaves were once held. Montgomery’s present intrigues, as well, with cultural institutions, distinct neighborhoods and a burgeoning dining scene. Here is what to explore and where to learn in Montgomery.

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Interior of the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church.

 

Day 1: Civil Rights history

Montgomery’s downtown area is encompassed with street markers and buildings linked to key moments in the Civil Rights movement. The Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church was once led by a young Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., who oversaw plans for the Montgomery Bus Boycott from his church office. Take a guided tour that steps inside that office, plus the church’s interior and community space. Be sure to catch the film depicting the church’s history dating back to the 1870s.

Next, head to the Dexter Parsonage Museum, the former residence for the church’s ministers, including King and his family. This house also marked a significant moment for King: On January 31, 1956, he calmed an angry crowd gathered outside his home after a bomb was thrown on the front porch. Back near the church, the Civil Rights Memorial has an outside circular granite table listing a chronology of the Civil Rights Movement and the names of those who lost their lives during that time, with an adjacent building offering  more information.

Housed in a former Greyhound Bus Station, the Freedom Rides Museum reflects on this non-violent protest.

The Rosa Parks Museum at Troy University tells more about the civil rights icon who was arrested due to her refusal to give up her bus seat, with a visual re-enactment of that moment along with exhibits on the succeeding Montgomery bus boycott. At a former Greyhound bus station, the Freedom Rides Museum follows the journey of college students traveling by bus through the South in 1961 to oppose segregated public transportation while encountering violent mobs along the way. One group arrived at this Montgomery station in May of that year.

Start your day with a build-your-own breakfast at Cahawba House, featuring biscuits and local jams. Go for lunch at Chris’ Hot Dogs, a family-run, century-old eatery known for its hot dogs and chicken, and then have dinner at Central, an upscale American restaurant.

Day 2: Arts and cultural institutions

This house in Montgomery was the last place F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald lived with their only daughter.

Montgomery has places relating to different aspects of the arts. In Old Cloverdale, the Fitzgerald Museum is housed in the last existing home that F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald lived in with their daughter, “Scottie.” Zelda, a Montgomery native, gets recognition as an artist, dancer and writer, with displays of her family photos, paintings and published works. Of course, Scott has his place here too, with his books, magazine articles and personal pictures on view.

Country star Hank Williams Sr., another Montgomery resident, gets his due too. In downtown, The Hank Williams Museum pays tribute to the late singer-songwriter, and nods to his wife, Audrey, and two children, Hank Williams Jr. and Jett Williams, with a showcase of musical instruments, stage attire, archival TV footage and family photos. Also, pay your respects at his and Audrey’s graves at Oakwood Annex Cemetery, a half-hour drive from the museum.

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Also downtown, the Museum of Alabama within the Department of Archives and History contains exhibits on Alabama’s Native American culture and its geology, plus a children’s historic room. Unveiled in late 2017, “Alabama Voices” reflects on its 300-year history, starting with a photo collage of its natives and locals and then follows along a timeline from European settlement up through Alabama’s citizens today.

In Blount Cultural Park, the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts centers on 18th to 21st century American works, encompassing paintings, sculpture, glass and Southeast regional art, plus has Sub-Sahara African pieces and works on paper by Old Masters such as Rembrandt and Whistler. Also in the park, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the state’s professional theater company, not only presents works by the Bard but also stages classics, musicals, children’s productions and world premieres. If in season, catch a game with the Montgomery Biscuits minor league baseball team, at Montgomery Riverwalk Stadium.

Have brekkie at Shashy’s Bakery & Fine Foods in Midtown, a sit-down eatery with a delectable display of baked goodness. Derk’s Filet & Vine in Old Cloverdale is a deli dishing out Southern fixings with ample table seating. End the evening also in Old Coverdale at Vintage Year, noted for its wine selection, meat and seafood dishes and a specialty Tuesday Burger Night.

Day 3: Explore Montgomery’s neighborhoods

Each Montgomery neighborhood has its respective character. The Five Points Arts & Cultural District is a redevelopment area with commercial buildings being transformed into community spaces; it’s also the location for the upcoming Equal Justice Initiative’s “The National Memorial to Peace and Justice.” Along with historic sites, Downtown has an Alley Entertainment District and is seeing two  former department store  being transformed into residential and retail mixed spaces.

Cottage Hill, Montgomery’s oldest residential neighborhood, is lined with Victorian era homes, while Old Cloverdale and Cloverdale-Idlewild have a mix of shopping and entertainment areas. Hampstead is an urbanist design community with a mix of private homes and public businesses; stop for a meal at TASTE, with its wine selection available for purchase, craft beers, tapas and brunch with a mimosa flight.

As for where to stay, there are good options downtown such as the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa at the Convention Center, which makes for a comfortable stay thanks to its on-site European spa, rooftop pool, and a bar and grill. Meanwhile, the Embassy Suites by Hilton Montgomery Hotel & Conference Center has two restaurants, an indoor pool, and a free airport shuttle.

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Tagged: Feature

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Michele Herrmann

Michele Herrmann

Michele writes about women's travel, destinations, culinary, and cultural topics for various outlets and has ventured as far as Fiji, to date. She also muses her tales on She Is Going Places.

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