United States Civil Rights Trail
Alabama is a state that has been on my radar for quite awhile due to its historical significance and being the mecca of the civil rights movement. In October of 2022, I had the great fortune to be awarded a scholarship from the Alexandria, Virginia Community Remembrance Project to be one of 165 people to participate in this once in a lifetime opportunity. The overall purpose of the Alabama pilgrimage was to honor the lives of Joseph McCoy and Benjamin Thomas who were two young men that were terrorized and lynched in Alexandria, VA. In this travel guide you will get a glimpse of the sites, foods and stories I experienced on my travels from October 6-10, 2022. Let’s get ready to learn, see and do all things in Montgomery, Alabama.
- The Legacy Museum & Annex: If you have seen the movie, Just Mercy, you would be familiar with the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) and their work to protect the basic human rights of the most vulnerable by eradicating mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States. As part of the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project pilgrimage, I had the great honor to witness the soil transfer of Joseph McCoy (1897) and Benjamin Franklin (1899) who where lynched in Alexandria, being delivered to EJI at the the Legacy Annex which is a smaller version of the museum and event space. The soil ceremony was attended by EJI representatives, Montgomery & Alexandria city council officials, the Office of Historic Alexandria, descendants of Joseph McCoy and Alexandria citizens. It was such a moving experience that had me reflecting on my own family’s lineage and how our lives contributed to the evolution of the United States. In the afternoon, my tour group visited the Legacy Museum to get the full scope of the injustices that African Americans experienced from slavery to modern day incarceration. Entering the museum, you become fully immersed in the audio and visual images of the Atlantic Ocean. The exhibit transports you to the start of the anguish experienced by the Africans that were kidnapped and chained in the ship bowels on their way to America. Though the images and content could be perceived as jarring, I found it to be necessary to give a direct and realistic interpretation of what occurred throughout American history. When reading one of the panels, I was shocked to learn that New England colonists enslaved Native Americans and trafficked them to the West Indies and then used them as collateral to trade for enslaved Africans. I could not believe that another level of etrossis’s was taken place during that time as if extracting people from Africa was not bad enough. The Legacy Museum is full of mind blowing facts and artifacts such as this, and you would need more than a few hours to take in everything that is being presented. A timed ticket is required to visit the museum and they can be purchased on the website for $5 per person which is a very reasonable price for an interactive and emotional awakening experience. At the end of your visit, head over to Legacy Park across the street. The park is a safe space that provides you an opportunity to decompress and reflect on what you learned.
Munch Tip: The Legacy Museum doesn’t allow you to take photos due the sensitive nature of the material. So leave your cameras in your car and keep your phones in your pocket.
- Montgomery Interpretive Center, National Park Service: The museum is located on the grounds of the historical black college, Alabama State University. During my visit, my group was welcomed by Dr. Dorothy Autrey and Dr. Howard Robinson who are both professors that teach at the university. If you want a crash course in the Civil Rights movement this is the place you have to visit. The story of the march from Selma to Montgomery is told in a chronological order and highlights the activists that led the way to the reform of fair and equal voting practices for African Americans. The museum does not have an admissions fee, but to help keep telling this American story, a donation is always welcomed and appreciated.
Munch Tip: Directly across the street from the museum are the homes of Nat King Cole and Reverend, Dr. Ralph Abernathy. Both men have ties to Montgomery, AL and exemplify the black excellence that came from the state.
- Freedom Rides Museum: The former Greyhound bus station is an important landmark of the Civil Rights movement. In 2011, the facility was converted into a museum to tell the stories of the freedom riders that traveled to Montgomery to help with the effort. This is where a young John Lewis and his fellow Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) activists pulled into the bus station and were met by a mob of klans men who taunted and harassed them when they tried to get off the bus. Igniting the tension in the area, the US government was forced to get involved in the movement. The timeline that is displayed on the museum’s walls walks you through each event that occurred during those terrifying hours when the freedom riders arrived into town. An hour or less is a sufficient amount of time to view the whole museum depending on how long it takes for you to read each panel. Make sure to visit the gift shop before you leave to take a piece of history home with you. The museum is open from Tuesday – Friday from 11AM to 4PM and Saturday from 12–4PM. Tickets are priced at $5 for adults, $3 for children (6-18 years old) and admission is free for children under 6 years old.
Munch Tip: Pictures are not allowed in the museum. However, the educational component of the museum is way more important than snapping a picture.
- Rosa Parks Museum & Library: This space is a tribute to the life of Rosa Parks and her contributions to the Civil Rights movement. The museum is literally located blocks from where she took a stand to not give up her seat on a bus after having a long day at work. When you enter the museum the first exhibit provides you context of what happened on that historic day with testimonials from residents that lived in the area during that period. While walking through each historical vignette, you will see how the bus boycotts evolved into a movement with the abundance of artifacts that are preserved in the glass displays. The well organized car pooling system that was developed to transport people from their homes to their jobs is a testament to the devotion of achieving a common goal of equal rights for all. I didn’t know that the Montgomery city council worked to shut down the activists’ plans by fining taxi drivers if they did not charge the more expensive rate of 45 cents per ride, opposed to the 10 cent fare that was being charged to take the bus. The intimate details that are present in the museum was the highlight of the whole experience and is definitely something worth seeing when you visit Montgomery. The museum is located on the campus of Troy University and is open from Monday-Friday from 9AM – 5PM and Saturday from 9AM – 3PM. To just see the museum it costs $7.50 per ticket for those aged 12 and older, $5 for ages 4-12 and free for children under 3.
Munch Tip: This is another museum that does not allow pictures. Photos are allowed in the lobby where there is a statue of Rosa Parks sitting on a bus seat. This is a great opportunity to take a selfie with the civil rights icon.
- The National Memorial for Peace and Justice: The memorial is the first of its kind that focuses on the lynching and cruel acts of injustices that were thrusted upon African Americans. As part of the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project a pillar was installed in the main exhibit space as a sign of remembrance to the tragic losses of Benjamin Thomas and Joseph McCoy. The rows and rows of steel pillars are a shock to the system, that thousands of lives were extinguished from this Earth just for being an African American. The many sculptures on the grounds depict the decades of injustice that span from slavery to the Jim Crow era. Towards the end of the memorial there are community reckoning signs from several states that have documented and identified lynching’s that have taken place in their borders. Among them were signs for Bob Brackett & John Humphries of Buncombe County, North Carolina. You can learn more about these two men in my travel guide for Asheville, North Carolina. The ticket that you purchased for the Legacy Museum includes your admission for the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. So for $5, you have access to two institutions that are prevalent to understanding the black experience in American history.
Munch Tip: There is a shuttle bus that takes you from the Legacy Museum to the Memorial. It runs every 10 minutes and is free for those that purchased a ticket.
- City Tour of Montgomery: To get the lay of the land, a city tour was scheduled for the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project group with two local black women owned businesses; Ms. Wanda Battle of Legendary Tours and Ms. Ann Clemons of Triple E. Group Services. These two women brought the pages of the history books to life with the stories that they recounted from their childhood and how Montgomery was a place filled with love and support in the black community despite the unfair circumstances they experienced on a daily basis. One of the stops on the tour was visiting Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s home on Dexter Avenue. During the time that the King family lived in this home it was bombed several times. One of the bombs landed on the front porch of the house and there is a plaque that identifies the location. The highlight of the tour was visiting the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church where Dr. King was the pastor from 1955-1956. I couldn’t believe it was in walking distance to the Alabama state capitol building. The iconic picture of Dr. King, Coretta Scott King and a group of civil rights activists marching towards the capitol for their civil rights was taken right in the location where my two feet were standing. Today, you can see a picture of this historical moment in the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC.
Munch Tip: The tour was included as part of the scholarship I received from the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project. However, you can experience these two ladies’ wonderful tours for yourself; Legendary Tours and Triple E. Group Services.
- Montgomery Riverwalk Stadium: America’s favorite pastime hits every corner of this country and Montgomery has their own piece of Americana with the minor league Double A baseball team, the Montgomery Biscuits. The major league parent team is the Tampa Bay StingRays. Before it was a baseball stadium, the grounds were the site of a confederate jail that imprisoned union soldiers during the Civil War. There is a marker outside of the stadium that confirms association to the Civil War. My tour group didn’t have the opportunity to watch a game, but we were treated to a buffet of traditional baseball foods. Based on the size of the field, if you were to watch a game you would not have a bad view and could ultimately sit in any of the seats and catch an unobstructed view of all the action.
Munch Tip: Don’t skip the gift shop. The hats and t-shirts with the mascots, Big Mo or Monty are too cute to pass up.
- The More Up Campus, Mothers of Gynecology Monument: The sculpture garden pays homage to Betsey, Anarcha and Lucy who were enslaved women that were experimented on by Dr. J. Marian Sims in the 1840s. While mutilating the women’s bodies for medical research, the doctor didn’t use anesthesia or pain killers to help relieve the pain. It was believed that black women had a high tolerance for pain or just did not feel pain at all. Each iron sculpture is distinctly different and is adorned with the tools that were used during the surgeries as well as pieces of beauty like the variations of flowers. As you walk around the park you will see panels explaining the history of how black women were exploited. It also describes that healthcare for women of color was predominantly performed by black midwives and was quickly dismantled by white men with influence who believed that science and invasive tools were the best way to care for women’s bodies. Basically it was the 1800s version of mansplaining times ten. The park also has an art gallery that uses the mixed media art form to highlight African Americans that span from activism to pop culture. Operating hours are from Wednesday to Sunday from 12PM – 4PM. Tickets can be purchased online or in person for $18.
Munch Tip: Artist, activist and creator Michele Bowers has a three phased approach to expanding the campus. Phase one is to build upon the Mothers of Gynecology by establishing a health and wellness museum and clinic. The museum will be housed in the exact building where Dr. Sims conducted his torturous experiments. The mission will be to teach the history of gynecology in addition to providing the uninsured with healthcare from certified practitioners. Check on the website periodically to see when the museum and clinic will open.
- Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts: A 15 minute drive from the city center you will arrive at a serene location surrounded by a lake and picturesque trees that prepares your mind to be open to the creativity that is displayed within the walls of the museum. When I visited the museum in October 2022, the exhibit that was showing at the time was entitled A Site of Struggle: American Art Against Anti-Black Violence. The collection of mixed media pieces honored those that were the victims of unnecessary violence and harassment. Each piece of art allowed me to see a different perspective to how the travesties of the past caused a ripple effect that is still felt today. To commemorate the experiences that the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project and I encountered during the pilgrimage, a catered dinner was prepared by owners & chefs, Nick and Davena Jerini of Verde Café. This restaurant is located on site and specializes in southern delicacies. The meal that was prepared was inspired by the African diaspora and sourced with local ingredients. Everything from the collard greens with pork belly to the sweet potatoes was delicious. I was pleasantly surprised by the marinated black eyed pea salad. Not being a big fan of this bean, my taste buds positively reacted to the mixed vegetables and salad dressing that helped to build the salad’s flavor profiles. This one dish assisted with changing my stance on black eyed peas and I’ll be sure to be more open when seeing this listed on restaurant menus in the future. The museum is open Tuesday – Sunday from 10AM – 5PM. Café Verde is open Wednesday-Friday 11AM – 2PM.
Munch Tip: The museum is free to enter and has tons of free parking available. Make sure to follow the museum’s Instagram page to keep up to date with their latest exhibits.
- Central Restaurant: Southern food fare with a New York flare are the vibes Central Restaurant was giving me. The establishment was decorated with modern décor and earthy dinnerware. One of my dishes was plated on a board that resembled a salvaged piece of wood from an Alabama tree. The focal point of the restaurant was the open kitchen where you could see the chef calling out orders to the line cooks working diligently to make every order to perfection. For my starter, I ordered the gochujang rubbed lamb ribs ($14). The garnish of candied pecans with cilantro combined the Asian and Southern flavors into one yummy dish. To get a sense of the standouts on the menu, I asked my waitress to suggest what I should order as an entrée. She highly recommended the 8 ounce steak filet ($45), so that’s what I ordered. To round out my meal, I added the basil risotto for an additional $7. The food was delicious and was a great introductory meal for my first visit to Alabama.
Munch Tip: You could easily get away with ordering the shareable plates and making your meal more economical. The portion sizes were overly generous. Also, reservations are highly encouraged and appreciated.
- Plant Bae: Vegan comfort is on full display at this black owned restaurant. This is a realm I have not explored thoroughly and since I was in a new city, I jumped right in. I didn’t know what to expect when walking through the doors but I was warmly welcomed by the rhythmic music of Eryakah Badu and the spirited hello that came from behind the counter. The dishes on the menu were cleverly named with the suffix of BAE (Before Anyone Else) to tie it into the restaurant’s namesake. Even the half lemonade and half sweet tea was named to honor the world renowned golfer, Tiger Woods. I ordered the Philly Cheese Bae which was reasonably priced at $10. The hoagie roll was stuffed with beyond meat, sautéed mushrooms and a grilled pepper and onion mix. Queso and vegan mozzarella were generously layered on the sandwich and enveloped the other ingredients, creating an overwhelmingly satisfying lunch time meal. The cheesesteak was so delicious that I didn’t even realize there was no beef present. For my side, I chose a mix of sweet potato and regular French fries. If I had more time in the city, I definitely would have gone back for dinner. It’s safe to say that “I’ve been Bae’d”.
Munch Tip: The restaurant is located right around the corner from the Rosa Parks Museum and is easily in walking distance to other city attractions. So it is a must that you add this to your itinerary when you visit Montgomery.
- Tucker Pecan Company: The best souvenirs to bring home are items that bring alive what you experienced on your travels. Tucker’s Pecan Company is located on the outskirts of Montgomery and is about a 7 minute walk from the city center. The pecans are made fresh everyday and are enhanced with flavors such as cinnamon sugar. You can even buy a mini pecan pie for easy transport on the plane. The store also sells other Alabama staples like hot sauces, pecan butters and grilling glazes. Taking it up a notch, you can get a scoop of freshly made pecan ice cream with coffee at the counter in the back of the store. Unfortunately, it was closed when I visited so I couldn’t try one of my favorite flavors of ice cream. However, this will be at the top of my list for sure when I visit in the near future.
Munch Tip: Need some Alabama memorabilia? Tucker’s also sells t-shirts, signs with southern sayings and other trinkets that showcase the pride of the state.
The Munch Travelogue Quick Sheet
- The Legacy Museum
Address: 400 N Court St, Montgomery, AL 36104
Hours: Wednesday – Sunday from 9AM – 5PM
- The Legacy Annex
Address: 121 Coosa St, Montgomery, AL 36104
Hours: Wednesday – Sunday from 9AM – 5PM *Reservations Required*
- Montgomery Interpretive Center, National Park Service
Address: 1521 Harris Way, Montgomery, AL 36106
Hours: Wednesday – Saturday from 9AM – 4:30PM
- Freedom Rides Museum
Address: 210 S Court St, Montgomery, AL 36104
Hours: Tuesday – Friday from 11AM – 4PM & Saturday from 12PM – 4PM
- Rosa Parks Museum & Library
Address: 252 Montgomery St, Montgomery, AL 36104
Hours: Monday – Friday from 9AM – 5PM & Saturday from 9AM – 3PM
- The National Memorial for Peace and Justice
Address: 417 Caroline St, Montgomery, AL 36104
Hours: Wednesday – Sunday from 9AM – 5PM
- City of Montgomery Tours:
a) Legendary Tours
Founder & CEO: Wanda Battle
b) Triple E. Group Services
Tour Guide: Ann Clemmons
- The More Up Campus: Mothers of Gynecology Monument
Address: 17 Mildred St., Montgomery, AL
Hours: Wednesday – Saturday from 12PM – 4PM
- Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts
Address: 1 Museum Dr, Montgomery, AL 36117
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday from 10AM – 5PM
- Central Restaurant
Address: 129 Coosa St, Montgomery, AL 36104
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday from 5:30PM – 9PM
- Plant Bae
Address: 175 Lee St, Montgomery, AL 36104
Hours: Monday – Sunday from 11AM – 6PM
- Tucker Pecan Company
Address: 350 N McDonough St, Montgomery, AL 36104
Hours: Monday – Friday from 8AM – 3:30PM