Even though Montgomery, Alabama may not be considered a top travel destination, it has so much history to see that it should be at the top of everyone’s roadtrip list. With many of the important historical places located downtown near the Capitol Building, a walking trip can cover a lot of ground.
All the way back to the Civil War, this town in Alabama began playing a major part in American history as it was the first capital city of the Confederate States. One century later, it came back to the forefront as the center of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the 1960s. When Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus, Martin Luther King, Jr. was launched into the Civil Rights Movement and the demonstrations of the next decade.
Walk the streets. Follow the path. Remember the impact of the brave men and women who brought change to the United States through the Bus Boycott.
Rosa Parks Museum
As a self-guided tour, this museum associated at Troy University is located at the site of Rosa Parks’ arrest. With modern exhibits, the Rosa Parks Museum tells the story of her life and of the boycott through detailed exhibits and the first-hand stories of the local citizens who lived in Montgomery, Alabama during the time of the Civil Rights Movement and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Adults $7.50, Kids under 12 $5.50
Monday to Friday, 9 AM – 5 PM
Visit the Rosa Parks Statue
After you visit the museum and learn more about her, exit the main door to walk several blocks left into downtown. Look through the beautiful Court Street Fountain to see her life-sized statue standing on the corner. Placed unassumingly next to the street, she may be hard to miss if you aren’t looking. There is also a visitor center on this corner if you need even more information about your day in Montgomery.
Continue your tourist march through Montgomery by driving downtown to the Capitol area.
Dexter Avenue Baptist Church
As an active church, our visit here to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Montgomery church consisted only of reading the plaque, climbing the steps, and talking about the significance of the building. Much of the Bus Boycott’s activity was directed from King’s office in this building in 1956 as he led the congregation from 1954 to 1960. Check the Dexter Avenru King Memorial Baptist Church to see about scheduling a visit to tour inside with a guide.
As you walk to the steps of the Capitol, take the time to visit the garden before you cross the street. Starting on the left, there is a series of plaques walking you through history. This is a great thing to see if you arrive after hours of the Capitol closing because it’s accessible anytime.
Alabama State Capitol
With the typical large white dome, this large capitol building in the center of the square is hard to miss. Head to any of the main floor doors and go in. While we were greeted at the door by a security guard (scanned our bags), I feel like we just wandered around during this visit. The map they gave didn’t offer much direction, so just ask friendly people. As a free government experience, you can feel good exploring for only thirty minutes or so. Check the online schedule; while it would be amazing to see sessions in congress, I would imagine the area around would be a madhouse of parking and people.
Peer up to enjoy the painted dome. Visit the reconstructed State Senate Chamber where the vote was passed for Southern delegates to secede from the Union. See where Jefferson Davis was sworn in as the president of the Confederacy. Stand on the steps where 105 years later the Selma to Montgomery march ended with a famous speech by Dr. King. The original chambers have been reconstructed to look as they did 150 years ago with impressive tromp l’oueil painting.
First White House of the Confederacy
Free! Moved to the current location in 1921, the First White House is now directly across from the Capitol Building and is a thirty minute visit. This house served as the residence of President Jefferson Davis for several months in 1861 before the capital of the confederacy was relocated to Richmond, Virginia. Although a self-guided tour location, we were met with a very friendly history-buff docent who thoroughly introduced and talked us through the refurbished rooms of the house. This is a great opportunity for your children to interact with someone who is passionate about history – maybe they’ll even get a Civil War bullet out of it.
Museum of Alabama
Another free place to visit! Head up to the second floor to visit this Alabama history museum. With several small rooms dedicated to Alabama geology and Native American history, the real winner here is all the way at the end of the hall with a large exhibit dedicated to the full history of Alabama. It’s a beautifully done area that moves through history with videos, interactive sections, and artifacts to examine.
Of note, walk quickly past the kid play area, or it will occupy all of your children’s attention. They won’t want to leave to go “learn”. It’s a great play area to sit and let the kids play dress up or explore artifacts or play with antiques. It’s a great area designed by people who know kids.
Parking Near the Capitol
There isn’t really a way around this. All the spots we saw are two hour parking and you pay on the meter through an app you download. I had enough signal to download it on site, but to plan ahead, go to iTunes to get ParkMobile ahead of time. As it will take you more than two hours to view this area, I don’t really know what to do except move your car when the time is up.
When you are ready to move onto the Museum of Alabama, there is a free parking lot behind the building which is marked by a small brown sign near the ground on the side of the road opposite the museum. This is a free parking lot for museum guests, but I don’t think you would want to park there all day both due to the size of the lot and the distance to the surrounding sights. Park in one of the paid spots – download the app.
Other Sights in Montgomery – Until Next Time!
If you only have one day to visit Montgomery, AL, I suggest you stick to the places I visited. Each site covered a slightly different subject of history while allowing for some kid play. With all the Civil Rights history at these downtown Montgomery must-see places, I knew the kids’ attention can only do so much.
Check the hours of the sites; with many opening only 9-4, you don’t have a lot of time to squeeze it all in.
Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts
As an always-free museum, this museum of fine arts was on my list; there’s just too much to experience in Montgomery so it will stay on my list until next year. With over 4,000 rotating sculptures, paintings, and glassware to see, a couple of hours here would have been a good way to take a break from a history-visit overload.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice & The Legacy Museum
As our nation’s first monument to enslaved black people, this is a place to memorialize lynching victims. Nearby, focusing on the legacy of slavery, the Legacy Museum takes a dive into Reconstruction, segregation, and mass incarceration. While an excellent learning opportunity for older kids and adults, I just decided this was too much for my younger kids.
Civil Rights Memorial Center
As a small memorial down the road from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the connected museum stands to remember the 40 people whose names are inscribed due to the roles they played in the Civil Rights Movement. Also present are a short video and discussion of how to take action moving forward.
Freedom Riders Memorial
A small, paid attraction, this museum is a great way to introduce your kids to the story of the freedom riders who again dared to challenge segregation on a bus ride.