Background Music: "Alabama Getaway" by The Grateful Dead

Montgomery, the capital city of Alabama, and a major player in the histories of both the Civil War and Civil Rights Movement.

Montgomery is one of the nicer capital cities we’ve seen so far- clean, safe, interesting and easy to get around in. The Capitol building itself is beautiful with white marble steps, high columns and iron railings. Everything has a very Southern feel. Like many capitols, this building holds its share of history, but it has a distinction like no other. This was the birthplace of the Confederate States of America. It was here that the provisional government of the Confederate States was established in February 1861. In that same year, Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as president of the C.S.A. on the front steps.

These same front steps would see history of a different kind a century later when, in 1965, the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March, led by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., ended there. Just a few blocks down the street, more civil rights history was made. On the corner of Lee and Montgomery, Rosa Parks took a stand against segregation by refusing to give up her bus seat to white passengers. We visited the Rosa Parks museum on that site and learned about the events leading up to Ms. Parks challenge against racism, the bus boycott that followed, and the eventual desegregation that took place. Rosa Parks was just one of the many individuals honored as taking part in a courageous stand against inequality.

Thankfully, much has changed in Montgomery since those dark days of segregation and Civil War. The memorials to the Civil Rights Movement are done in a way that reminds us to treat everyone with respect and dignity, regardless of color, gender or religion. The Confederate sites, like all those we’ve seen in the South, are more of a commemoration of Southern heritage. There’s no apology, no “lesson learned”, instead Confederate flags hang proudly and memorials are built in bittersweet remembrance of times long past. As Northerners, we’re not sure what to think of this. Honestly, we don’t really get it, and we’re not sure if we would like the explanation if we did get it. Because of our ignorance on the subject, we try to hold our judgment, but can’t help but think there must be some here who find offense. There’s obviously much more to this story that we don’t know.

What we did find was that people here are very nice, and hold no grudge against us “Northerners”. In fact, they’re nicer than we’re used to- and we spent a month in Texas, so that’s saying a lot! A couple of times we found ourselves wondering if maybe the person we were talking to was trying to sell us something. But it never happened. Also, we found out that we stick out like sore thumbs here- we had no idea. In one part of town we walked past a road crew. One of the crew stopped his work, smiled at us and asked, “What Northern State are you from?” He gestured to what we were wearing, and we guessed that our summer clothes on a “cold” 78 degree day had given us away. He offered a handshake and welcomed us to Montgomery. Another lady, passing us in a car, saw that we were taking pictures, stopped and yelled out her window, “Where are you from?” It was, honestly, a little strange- but we went with it. We told her we’re from Oregon, and she actually offered to get out of her car and take a picture of us together. We declined, joking that “we already know what we look like”. I’m sure she was just friendly and not crazy at all. It’s sad when kindness makes you wary, and you can’t just accept it for what it is. Maybe our skepticism will serve us better when we get to places like New York City.

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