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.
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?