Places That Changed the World: Montgomery, Alabama

The U.S. Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s was a long-fought struggle for justice and social change. Montgomery, Alabama, considered the birthplace of the Movement, is home to churches, houses, public accommodations, and other meeting spaces that survive as physical testaments of this story. Today, site owners, stewards, and advocates have come together to form a consortium, included on the 2018 World Monuments Watch, that can collectively address the challenges facing the protection and preservation of these places and their stories. 

Old Ship AME Zion Church (1852)World Monuments Fund

Established in 1852, Old Ship is home to the oldest black congregation in Montgomery, Alabama, and is a center of cultural and religious life for the black community throughout the state.

The church played a key role in the decision to move State Normal, one of the oldest Historically Black Colleges & Universities in the United States, from Marion to Montgomery, Alabama. Later, its name was changed to Alabama State University, and its first graduation ceremonies were held at Old Ship. Speakers from its pulpit have included The Honorable Frederick Douglas and President William McKinley.

During the Civil Rights movement, important organizational meetings were held in the church.

Ben Moore Hotel/Malden Brothers Barber Shop (1951)World Monuments Fund

The Ben Moore Hotel was built in 1951 and opened its doors to African Americans in 1952. It would become the site of historic meetings between representatives of the black and white populations of Montgomery during the dawn of the Civil Rights era.

The four-story Ben Moore Hotel offered lodging, a safe place for meetings, and a vibrant social life free from the bigotry and hostilities of the racism of the 1950s and '60s.

An evocative barbershop remains in its basement, full of Civil Rights-era news clippings, pictures, and portraits, including one of its most famous customers, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Dexter Avenue Church Parsonage, where he lived for many years, is just yards away.

Today, except for the barbershop, the hotel is vacant.

Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist ChurchWorld Monuments Fund

Known for its years at the forefront of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Civil Rights movement, led by then-pastor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church proved how members of a black community could unite in resistance to segregation. It heralded a new era of "direct action."

Years before the boycott, Dexter Avenue minister Vernon Johns was an early change-seeker, sitting down in the whites-only section of a city bus. When the driver ordered him off, Johns urged other passengers to join him, thus instigating bus sit-ins that would propel the movement.

Dexter Avenue ParsonageWorld Monuments Fund

This porticoed, clapboard house served as the home of Dr. King and his family during his ministry in Montgomery and his leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

On January 31, 1956, the parsonage was bombed, ripping a hole through the home and front steps and leaving a scar in the concrete still visible today. The bombing helped focus national attention on the movement in Montgomery and Dr. King's firm stand on non-violence.

Modern day Dr. Richard H. Harris, Jr. House (2018-06-01)World Monuments Fund

This house, originally constructed at the turn of the century, was the home of Dr. Richard H. Harris Jr and his family. In May 1961, Dr. Harris opened this home to 33 Freedom Riders challenging interstate bus segregation who were harassed and attacked at the Montgomery Greyhound Bus Station upon arrival.

In the days following the attack, Harris' home served as a haven for the Freedom Riders while martial law was declared in the area. Dr. King, Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy, James Farmer, John Lewis, Diane Nash, and other leaders of the Civil Rights movement met at the Harris House to develop a strategy for continuing the rides.

On May 24, after solemn prayer, the Freedom Riders were escorted from the Harris House by the National Guard to the Greyhound Bus Station to continue their mission to Jackson, Mississippi.

Modern day First Baptist Church (1867)World Monuments Fund

First Baptist was founded in downtown Montgomery in 1867 as one of the first black churches in the area, ultimately becoming one of the largest in the South. It was an important gathering place for activities related to the Civil Rights movement, and was led from 1952 to 1961 by Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Dr. King’s right hand.

In 1957, three weeks after the official end of the boycott, the church was bombed along with three others nearby. No one was hurt but the church was severely damaged.

The church was also the site of the "siege of First Baptist.” Following the arrival of Freedom Riders who had been met with violence at the Greyhound Bus Station in downtown Montgomery, the church was besieged by 3,000 whites who threatened to burn it. In the basement, Dr. King called Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy while bricks were thrown through the windows and tear gas drifted inside. The event played a crucial part in the desegregation of interstate travel.

Jackson Community House and MuseumWorld Monuments Fund

In 1943, the Montgomery City Federation of Colored Women's Clubs purchased this residence for its 25 adult clubs and 15 youth clubs.

The federation was associated with a series of groups all promoting positive citizenship on both race and gender fronts. They formed an invaluable gathering place for black women using the Community House. It functioned as a Girl Scout headquarters, a popular teenage meeting place, an adult social and civic center, and beginning in December 1948, the city's first library open to African Americans.

The building also hosted meetings of the Women's Political Council, which helped initiate the Montgomery Bus Boycott; a "Stork's Nest" for needy mothers; a Head Start kindergarten; voter registration; youth leadership training; tutorial and counseling programs for at-risk youth; family reunions, receptions, and weddings.

Mt. Zion AME Zion ChurchWorld Monuments Fund

From 1948 to 1952, Rev. Solomon Seay of Mt. Zion led the black community in early protests as president of the Negro Civic and Improvement League.

Later, on the first full day of the bus boycott, Rev. Roy Bennett hosted a community leadership meeting in the church, resulting in the creation of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) and the election of Dr. King to his first official leadership role in the Civil Rights movement as its president.

During the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965, marchers rested at the church on their way to the capitol. Rev. Percy Smith, Jr., who led the church at the time of the march, became the first black man to run for mayor of Montgomery.

Trinity Lutheran Church ParsonageWorld Monuments Fund

This home was the church residence of Robert S. Graetz, a white Lutheran clergyman who pastored the black congregation of Trinity Lutheran, placing him in the midst of community hostility the year of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Graetz openly supported the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He formally joined the movement, becoming secretary of the Montgomery Improvement Association and frequently attending meetings led by Dr. King.

He and his family were regularly targeted by the Ku Klux Klan. Graetz had his tires slashed, his car booby-trapped, and was arrested on false charges. His church residence was bombed three times; the largest bomb, which failed to explode, would have killed the Graetz family and leveled much of the block.

Credits: Story

The Alabama African-American Civil Rights Heritage Sites Consortium was included on the 2018 World Monuments Watch to place a spotlight on the efforts of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, encourage further stakeholder engagement, and ensure that the places we preserve tell the full story of our diversity.

Click here to explore Selma, Alabama

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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