Alabama: Sweet home where the skies are blue

Montgomery
The intersection of Rosa Parks Avenue and Jeff Davis Avenue says it all. Once known as the capital of the Confederate States of America, Alabama’s capital city is now a leading destination for civil rights and Civil War attractions.

Rosa Parks Museum salutes the African-American woman whose 1955 arrest prompted the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Visitors watch a riveting multimedia presentation designed to make them feel as though they are watching Parks board the bus and witnessing the events that followed.

Weary after a day’s work as a seamstress at a department store, Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man. The bus driver contacted police, and she was found guilty of disorderly conduct. A bus boycott was organized by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other black leaders. While this boycott is widely regarded as the start of the civil rights movement, it did not come without a high price for Parks. Fired from her job and unable to get other employment, she was also subjected to threats and harassment. She and her family moved to Detroit in 1957, and for more than 20 years she worked for U.S. Representative John Conyers. Following her 1988 retirement, she received countless awards and honors as she spoke worldwide about civil rights, as long as her health allowed.

Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church is where King served as pastor while leading the bus boycott. Tour highlights include the sanctuary, which is still home to weekly services, and a fascinating mural depicting civil rights highlights. Visitors can also see the Dexter Avenue Church Parsonage, the modest seven-room home where the King family lived in Montgomery from 1954 to 1960. A crater on the front porch shows where dynamite was thrown at Mrs. King and her baby daughter.

Jefferson Davis and his family resided in Montgomery for a few months in 1861. The First White House of the Confederacy offers home tours showcasing period furniture and many of Davis’ personal belongings.

Alabama history comes alive in Old Alabama Town, a six-block complex that recreates a typical village. Visit costumed interpreters at a century-old tavern, a one-room school, cotton gin, gristmill, slave quarters and an antebellum townhouse.

Birmingham

The largest city in Alabama was once the south’s leading producer of steel. Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark produced iron and related products between 1882 and 1971 and is the only publicly held industrial site in the world. Sloss is now a museum commemorating Birmingham’s industrial past and a nationally renowned metal-arts facility. The Birmingham Museum of Art has a notable collection of Frederic Remington bronzes, Wedgwood china and Renaissance art. A special exhibit of Alabama Folk Pottery is on display until Jan. 7.

Radiologist Dr. Lawrence Reynolds willed his collection of antique medical instruments, some dating to the 13th century, to the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Visitors to the Alabama Museum of the Health Sciences can see this collection, which includes an ivory anatomical model used by 16th-century medical students and a 1950s iron lung. Specialty museums include Alabama Historical Radio Society Museum, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Reynolds Historical Library, and the Southern Museum of Flight. Mobile

This beautiful gulfside city was founded in the early 18th century by French explorers. It grew to become a wealthy port that shipped cotton and timber throughout the world. Mobile was also an important Confederate port throughout the Civil War. Built by the French to protect against Spanish and British attacks, Fort Conde protected Mobile from 1723 until 1820. The reconstructed fort displays a small collection of artifacts from when Mobile was capital of the Louisiana Purchase.

Next door, the Conde-Charlotte Museum has authentically furnished rooms from each era of Mobile’s history. Visitors can see a 1763 English Council Chamber, a 1780 Spanish courtyard, an 1815 French sitting room and two 1860s Confederate parlors. Explore 300 years of regional history at the Museum of Mobile. Located in a circa-1857 building, this museum offers a chance to experience travel on an African slave ship, listen to stories from Civil War soldiers and feel the power of a raging hurricane.

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