Dexter Avenue

To the left, the corner where Rosa Parks sat. To the right, the building where a telegraph started the Civil War.

Unless you’ve been to Montgomery, Alabama, you may not realize how integral Dexter Avenue has been in shaping our world. It’s amazing to stand at the fountain on that street and think about all the events that occurred there that were pivotal moments in history.

There’s the corner where Rosa Parks sat waiting on a bench before boarding that infamous bus. A plaque commemorates the spot. And someone has installed a protected Bible on the small patch of land there as well. If you’re not familiar with Rosa Parks, she was the black woman who boarded a bus and then refused to give up her seat for a white man when the bus driver told her to. The bus driver had a policeman arrest her and remove her from the bus; an action that incited the Montgomery Bus Boycott and brought world attention to the injustice of segregation still happening in Montgomery at the time.

The Rosa Parks Museum is located further down the street. It is a marvelous showcase of how the black community pulled together after Rosa was arrested. Visitors stand in front of a “time machine” — a replica of the city bus that has an almost holographic depiction of Rosa’s fateful bus ride as it happened. As you stand there and watch, you feel the uncomfortable tension of what segregation was like and how unnecessary and demeaning the bus driver’s treatment of Rosa was. I highly recommend a visit.

But before Rosa, Dexter Avenue was already a significant historical spot in world events. Jefferson Davis (President of the Confederacy) celebrated his inaugural ball in a building on this street. It also housed a massive slave market directly across the street from the Winter Building, from which the telegram that started the Civil War at Ft. Sumter was sent.

Later, Dexter Avenue played a prominent role in Civil Rights again at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lead the congregation from 1954 to 1960. Our tour guide, Wanda, one of the most charismatic women I’ve ever met, proudly showed us around the church and the basement offices where we stopped to hear the history of a simple wooden pulpit that Dr. King stood behind in 1965.

Wanda urged each of us to stand at the pulpit as Dr. King had and rest our hands upon it. Then we each took a turn proclaiming his famous words: “How long? Not long!” — the words he vowed to the crowd on the steps of the State Capitol after they successfully completed the Selma-to-Montgomery March for voting rights and equal justice for African Americans. It was a powerful moment for every single one of us.

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What became evident to me in my time in Montgomery was how significant, yet overlooked, the city has been in U.S. history. Though much of the city’s history is shameful, Montgomery chooses not to ignore that. Instead, they honor their past and look toward the future, and celebrate the changes that have occurred as a result of all that happened on Dexter Avenue.

Are you now in awe of Dexter Avenue, too?

25 responses to “Dexter Avenue

  1. Great post, Julie! A driving trip through the south has been on my “to do” list for a long time. Selma is on that itinerary, and of course, Montgomery, is as well — but now I know what to expect there. I really like the idea of having a chance to stand in the same pulpit MLK did!

  2. It’s important to embrace our history and learn from it so we don’t repeat it again. Silence or sweeping something under the rug is never the answer, glad to see the city Selma has turned into!

  3. Driving through the South is a complicated road trip. There isn’t the in-your-face beauty of the West or waves breaking on the sand. There is a depth and history to the buildings, cities and even the thought patterns of the people. It’s this history that makes Dexter Avenue and the South unique, but you have to let it come to you.

  4. I’ve never been to Alabama, but it sounds like Montgomery would be a great stop on a southern tour. So much history and important political events there. Great post!

    • Thanks. I DEFINITELY recommend Montgomery. I’ve been to several parts of Alabama, but have come back to this area twice now and plan to visit again in the next few years. I still think I’ve barely scratched the surface.

  5. I’ve never been to Montgomery and didn’t know the role it played in the civil war and civil rights. I can see how it’s a great place for history buffs! If I ever visit, I will definitely stop by Dexter Avenue!

  6. Well thought out and well written, Juliann. An important post that helps us remember. I was in Charleston last week and drove by Fort Sumpter. My mind was traveling down a similar path. Thanks. –Curt

    • There is so much to absorb and learn in these parts of the South. I didn’t even mention that the Capitol Building was at the end of Dexter Avenue. It undoubtedly had centuries worth of history, too, if we think about all the things that took place there.

      • I recruited for Peace Corps at college campuses throughout the South in 1967 Juliann, when prejudice was still an open sore in many areas. The present battle over symbols of segregation that is raging is one more example that we still have a ways to go. –Curt

  7. I haven’t been to Montgomery, Alabama, but I’ve been curious about it because it’s so historic. The “time machine” you describe at the Rosa Parks Museum does sound eerie. Love that street art too. Cheers!

  8. I havent been to southern US yet so this is all news to me! I love that they celebrate the changes and progress theyve made. Sounds like a fantastic place to visit especially for history buffs!

  9. Wow! First of all it’s been a dream of mind to visit Alabama and second to see where all of this history happened! It looks like a trip I need to add to the list!

  10. Wow, great post Juliann, and it all happened during my lifetime. I don’t suppose we can claim full equal rights for all just yet but things are much better than they were those few short years ago.

    I bet that bus driver wished he’d not said a word 🙂

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