Montgomery Alabama on the Civil Rights Trail

The city that had been known as the “Cradle of the Confederacy” has the dual distinction of being the “Birthplace of Civil Rights.”

Shortly after marrying his college sweetheart in marion, Alabama, 24 year old martin Luther King Jr., preached his first sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, a block from the Alabama State Capitol where Southern secessionists had formed the Confederacy in 1861.

The next year in 1955, 42 year old seamstress Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to relinquish her seat on a city bus to whites as required by city ordinance.  Negro ministers and lawyers, who had been waiting for a test case on the constutionality of the law, recruited the reluctant young minister to lead a boycott of city buses.

King’s stirring oratory galzvanized the black community and made him the spokesman for the fledgling movement.  Some 50,000 Negroes refused to ride the city’s buses for 381 days until the U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws segregating public transportation.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott was the first major victory in the modern Civil Rights Movement.  Dr. King became the acknowledged leader of the movement.  His increased responsibilities prompted him to resign from church duties after four years.  Meanwhile, Mrs. Parks and her husband moved north to establish an educational program for young people.

After “Freedom Rider” college students were attacked in Montgomery in 1964, for the first time federal authorities provided protection for civil rights demonstrators.  King’s non violent leadership was recognized with the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.

Voting rights advocates in Selma decided to take action by presenting their grievances to the governor, walking 54 miles along U.S. 80 to the State Capitol in Montgomery.  After police halted the first attempt, the federal courts became involved and provided protection to marchers so that they could go forward and finish their landmark journey.

As the Selma-to-Montgomery Voting Rights march, which began March 21, 1965, streamed into downtown Montgomery five days later en route to the Capitol, marchers passed the bus stop where Mrs. Parks had been arrested a decade earlier.