All of the city's civil rights sites are downtown. To see more of the area's cultural attractions, drive to Blount Cultural Park, off I-85 North at exit 6 (follow the signs). Old Cloverdale features popular restaurants and boutiques. To get there, take Hull Street south out of downtown. It will take you straight into the district.
Civil Rights Sites
If there is a single don't-miss attraction in Montgomery, it is the wonderful Rosa Parks Library and Museum, 252 Montgomery St. (tel. 334/241-8615; http://montgomery.troy.edu/rosaparks/museum), at Troy State University. Through a series of galleries, interactive displays help viewers empathize with the black seamstress Rosa Parks, who sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 by refusing to give her seat on the bus to a white man. Her subsequent arrest made international headlines and led to a citywide boycott of public transportation, led by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. An emotional highlight of the museum is the gallery that re-creates a 1955 street scene with a replica of the bus on which Parks rode. In a multimedia tableau, actors' dialogue is played over video images to bring alive that fateful encounter that sparked a long ride to freedom for the city's black population. There's now a children's wing, which provides computer stations where visitors may research historical documents and hear testimonials from those associated with the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Admission is $5.50 for those 13 and older, and $3.50 for kids 12 and under. The museum is closed Sunday and holidays.
In keeping with the civil rights theme in Montgomery, we highly recommend a visit to Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, 454 Dexter Ave. (tel. 334/263-3970; www.dexterkingmemorial.org). This National Historic Landmark is where the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., first preached as a young pastor, and it was from this pulpit that he rose to the challenge of leading the Montgomery bus boycott. In the basement of the church, a large mural depicts King's civil rights crusade, which took him from Montgomery to Selma and, ultimately, to Memphis, where he was assassinated. Guided tours ($2 adults, $1 children) of the church are offered Monday and Thursday at 10am and 2pm. Self-guided walk-through tours are available on Friday; Saturday tours are by appointment only. Sunday tours are not conducted, but visitors are welcome to attend the worship service that usually begins at 10:30am.
In conjunction with a visit to Dr. King's church, Montgomery has opened another site that explores the personal side of the slain civil rights leader. The newly restored Dexter Parsonage Museum, 309 S. Jackson St. (tel. 334/261-3270; www.dakmf.org), is a few blocks from the center of downtown. King lived in the parsonage from 1954 to 1960 while leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The bungalow with the wide front porch was built in the 1920s, but the interior has been restored to the style of the mid-1950s, when King lived here with his new bride, Coretta Scott King, while he served as minister of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. Tourists may enter the study where King read, studied, and typed his sermons, often while listening to music. Kids are usually amazed to see the small 1950s-era kitchen, which includes a tub-style washing machine and a Frigidaire "icebox." Furniture and furnishings used by the King family fill the home, including the dining room where the Kings entertained fellow church members and conducted business meetings. In chilling detail, a tour guide recounts the day when a bomb exploded in the parsonage's front window and destroyed much of the home, though the King family escaped injury. Admission costs $3 adults, $2 children 11 and under. Note: The Dexter church and parsonage are not within easy walking distance of each other; be prepared to drive.
Outside the offices of the Southern Poverty Law Center downtown lies the city's most impressive monument. Designed by renowned architect Maya Lin (whose best-known work is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in the nation's capital), the Civil Rights Memorial and Center, 400 Washington Ave. (tel. 334/956-8200; www.splcenter.org), is a simple yet stunning touchstone for absorbing the impact and meaning of the civil rights movement that tore apart this city and so much of the nation. The names of some of those who died during the struggle are inscribed in a circular black granite table over which a gentle stream of water flows. Adjacent to the Memorial, the new Civil Rights Memorial Center provides an in-depth look at civil rights martyrs. Educational exhibits, a 69-seat theater, and a Wall of Tolerance are among the displays. Admission is $2 for adults and free to children 17 and under. The Center is closed Sunday. Civil War buffs should not miss the First White House of the Confederacy, 644 Washington Ave. (tel. 334/242-1861), where Jefferson Davis and his family once lived. The Confederate White House contains period furnishings and many of Davis's personal belongings. It was here that Confederate President Davis gave the order to fire on Fort Sumter. Closed weekends; admission is free.
The Civil Rights Trail -- The picturesque small town of Selma, Alabama, a leisurely hour's drive southwest of Montgomery, makes a good day trip for those who want to explore more civil rights history. The National Voting Rights Museum, 1012 Water Ave. (tel. 334/418-0800), is a simple but moving collection of galleries and artifacts that detail the fight by black residents to obtain rights to vote.
Selma is best known for the aborted March 7, 1965, voting rights march, "Bloody Sunday," when civil rights protestors trying to march from Selma to Montgomery were brutalized by tear gas, cattle prods, and clubs at the hands of police, state troopers, and local vigilantes. The bloody riot took place on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, named for a Confederate hero who, after the Civil War, lost his seat in the state legislature to a black man. For a free Black Heritage Guide that includes information about prominent civil rights sites in various Alabama cities and towns, contact the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel (tel. 800/ALABAMA [252-2262]; www.800alabama.com).
More Things to See & Do
The Hank Williams Museum, 118 Commerce St. (tel. 334/262-3600; www.thehankwilliamsmuseum.com), is a labor of love for the venue's founder, who was a friend and a fan of the beloved country music singer/songwriter who shot to fame in the 1940s. The centerpiece of the museum is the baby-blue 1952 Cadillac in which Williams was riding when he collapsed and died. Other galleries overflow with vinyl 78 records; many of Williams's belongings, costumes, and guitars; and an antique jukebox on which visitors can hear such classics as "Hey Good Lookin'" and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." Williams is buried in Oakwood Cemetery Annex, 1304 Upper Wetumpka Rd., and there's a bronze statue of the lanky entertainer in the heart of downtown. If you're interested in seeing these, the museum offers directions on how to get to both sites. Admission is $8 adults, $3 children 11 and under.
Another fun-filled attraction in the downtown area is Old Alabama Town, 301 Columbus St. (tel. 888/240-1850 or 334/240-4500; www.oldalabamatown.com), a reconstruction of an Alabama village in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Among the more than 40 restored structures are homes from the era, along with a tavern, drugstore, doctor's office, schoolhouse, cotton gin, and grocery. Self-guided walking tours are offered daily. Admission costs $8 adults, $4 children ages 6 to 18. Closed Sunday.
Set amid the verdant Blount Cultural Park just outside of downtown lies the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, 1 Museum Dr. (tel. 334/244-5700; www.mmfa.org). The free museum features Southern regional art as well as paintings and prints by the old masters. If the museum has a signature artwork, it is Edward Hicks's well-known The Peaceable Kingdom (ca. 1830). This magnificent building also houses Alabama's first interactive fine arts gallery for children, ARTWORKS. All activities are hands-on, giving children ample opportunity for creative exploration.
Literary enthusiasts should seek out the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum, 919 Felder Ave. (tel. 334/264-4222; www.fitzgerald-museum.com). Fitzgerald, author of such 20th-century classic novels as The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night, lived here off and on during the early years of the couple's tempestuous relationship. F. Scott met Montgomery native Zelda while he was stationed in the city during World War I. After their marriage, the couple lived in this rambling old home that now houses a modest museum. Although it's not a heavily attended tourist attraction, it is the only museum in the world devoted to the author. After watching a video about the Fitzgeralds, guests may peruse handwritten love letters Zelda wrote to her husband and admire her cigarette holder, a few pieces of jewelry, and other belongings, along with books and historical archives. Zelda's self-portraits and other paintings and drawings also fill the space, lending poignancy to the telling of her life story, in which she teetered in and out of madness for most of her adult life. Admission is free, but donations of $5 for adults are accepted. The museum is open Wednesday through Friday from 10am to 2pm, Saturday and Sunday 1 to 5pm.
The city's minor league baseball team, lovingly named the Montgomery Biscuits, 200 Coosa St. (tel. 334/323-2255; www.biscuitsbaseball.com), is an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. The team plays at downtown's Riverwalk Stadium, at the corner of Coosa and Tallapoosa streets. Stadium seats have excellent sightlines, and a picnic area makes a great place for families to spread out and enjoy a game. Concessions sold on-site include all the traditional game-day fare, as well as the eponymous Southern biscuits and honey. There's also a playground, as well as lots of activities designed to appeal to all ages. Tickets range from $6 to $12.
Riverfront Amphitheater, 355 Coosa St. (tel. 334/240-4092; www.funontheriver.net), is the latest addition to the ongoing Riverwalk development. This outdoor venue, with a white-columned pergola, overlooks the Alabama River in this shady setting for picnics, concerts, movies, and plays. A "splash pad" water feature cools off the kids. The park is free and open to the public year-round, though admission fees are charged for some amphitheater events.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.