We left New Orleans early in the morning, stopped at the Infinity Space Center and made it to Montgomery, Alabama by late afternoon, where we checked into the fanciest Hampton Inn I’d ever seen.
Hampton Inns are my hotels of choice when there isn’t any special historic hotel or B&B in the offing. They’re generally basic, clean and reasonably priced. I chose this one for it’s city center location. It wasn’t until I got there that I learned that it was built in 1927 as the very grand Greystone Hotel.
We wanted to visit two sites in Montgomery. The first was the Rosa Parks Museum. We had just enough time to dump our bags in the room and run to the museum, in order to make it for the last tour of the day, at 4:00. Fortunately, it was only a couple of blocks from the hotel.
We were the only ones there and it wasn’t really a tour. There was a brief introduction by a staff person, a theatre-in-the-round film, then a walk through the exhibits on our own.
In 1955, buses in Montgomery were divided into three sections: a white section in front, a black section in back and a changeable section in the middle. Blacks were allowed to sit in the middle, as long as the white section wasn’t full. Once the white section got full, however, blacks had to give up their seats in the middle section so that white people could sit there. Rosa Parks was an African American woman who refused to give up her seat to a white man after the white section of the bus had filled up.
She was arrested and charged with violating city segregation laws even though, technically, she had not been sitting in the white section. The African Americans of Montgomery had been waiting for the right moment to protest the city’s segregated public transportation system and this was it. Rosa Parks’ arrest — she was secretary of the local NAACP chapter, so she was part of the Montgomery Civil Rights leadership — led to a boycott of the public bus system. I’d always thought that African Americans were boycotting to be treated equally on the bus – so that they wouldn’t have to board from the back and sit in the back. But I was wrong. As far as seating went, they were just asking not to have to give up their seats to whites when the whites-only seats in the front ran out. The boycott lasted a year and a half, during which time the bus company’s finances took a dive, because African Americans had been 70% of their ridership.
The boycott was ultimately successful. The city repealed its segregation law as it applied to the public transportation system and Rosa Parks went on to become a Civil Rights icon. She wasn’t the first person to refuse to give up her seat, but she was the one who became the face of the movement.
The other place I wanted to go was to the Biscuit store. Montgomery has a minor league baseball team, called the Montgomery Biscuits. How cute is that? And how could I not go home with some sort of Biscuit merchandise. The Biscuits played at Riverside Stadium, also two blocks from our hotel, though in the opposite direction. Their store, the website said, closed at 5:00. It was 4:45 when we got out of the Rosa Parks Museum and we ran to the stadium.
Their website had been wrong: they closed at 4:30. So no Biscuit t-shirt for me. Everything else was closed by then too, so we took a stroll through Riverside Park, next to the Alabama River. Then we went on to an early dinner at a place called Central, located within a block of the Hampton. It turned out to be my favorite of all the restaurants we tried on our trip. Its look was industrial, its food bent southern without being battered or fried, and its service very good. There were lobbyists and state legislators all around us, and it was fun trying to figure out what everyone was angling for.
The one mistake I made with our visit to Montgomery was not giving it enough time. I really never gave Montgomery much thought, as far as places to tour went. But we could easily have filled another day or two with historic sites. I guess that leaves something for our next visit.