“My grandfather arrested Rosa Parks.” How’s that for hearing history first-person style on a trip to Montgomery, Alabama?
The granddaughter won’t be in the Dexter Parsonage Museum when you go — she was a touring visitor one day — but there’s a good chance Shirley Cherry will be there telling history she knows firsthand.
This was the home of the young Martin Luther and Coretta King family from 1954-1960, furnished as they had it raising little children, down to the black rotary dial phone.
Discover more impact explaining America’s civil rights history to your family standing on the King family front porch in the spot a bomb landed Jan. 30, 1956, than just pointing the kids to a history book.
“We must take time to teach the children history,” Cherry says to everyone. She’s the energetic Museum historian and tour director. She knew the civil rights historic figures, she has photos, and she lived the history herself. “I grew up in Alabama in a home without water.”
People with Specific Memories of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Cherry also knows the other people still living on Dexter Avenue, now in their nineties with specific memories of Dr. King’s arrest in 1954 at age 24, and the launch of the bus boycott. Her own grandfather, Fred Daniel, was the first one arrested during the Montgomery bus boycott.
Absorbing what you and the kids learned works well in the backyard meditation garden, mulling over the facts and connections with first-hand participants in 60 year-old history. Then head out Dexter Avenue.
Montgomery folks have been eating hot dogs at Chris’s on Dexter since 1917. Dexter also contains the Court Square Fountain, built in 1885 over an old artesian basin, and the King Memorial Baptist Church. Call ahead to secure a tour.
Rosa Parks Museum
The library and museum embracing the Rosa Parks decision to stay seated in the front of a Montgomery bus instead of moving to stand in the back is a participatory kind of place. Expect all ages to be engaged. Here are six distinct ways to immerse in this history:
- Sit in a stark room, walls full of black and white portraits of people in the Montgomery civil rights movement.
- Three film screens fill with more people, telling real stories.
- Lights go up, door opens, everybody enters what feels like a city street with a theatrical backlighted bus. Documentary style scenes involve a weary Rosa Parks, befuddled bus driver, angry passengers.
- Holt Street Baptist Church is the next stop
- Films in the exhibit hall are adults today sharing their childhood memories of the 1950s; this is a solid way to bring history home to the children traveling with you.
- The last stop poses thought-provoking questions to consider there, and later as a family. Things like “What would I have done?”
Cleveland Avenue Time Machine
I didn’t have an insider tip to allow time next door for the interactive time machine—22 minute experience not with Rosa Parks but other figures in this history. The point is showing things don’t just happen in history but people make things happen.
Where to Stay in Montgomery
Montgomery is a walkable city and that’s a good reason to stay in the downtown Renaissance Hotel with 342 rooms and suites and easy access to the restored riverfront, entertainment-district eateries, bars and coffee shops. There’s a spa attached as well as a Performing Arts Center.
Art fills the spacious lobby, curated by the Alabama artist known as Nall with a philosophy fitting for Martin Luther King Jr. observations. Here’s what he says: “It is through the arts that human perspectives can grow. It is through the arts that we learn what humans are made of.”