After bidding the children goodbye and resisting the temptation to sneak one of the puppies into our suitcase, we started our day with another breakfast at the Wildcat Cafe and Country Store, a proper mom’n’pop business that boasted ‘fresh peaches and death wish coffee.’ There weren’t any peaches available, and the coffee didn’t appear to be immediately toxic, but we did have another nice southern gutbuster breakfast of French toast and sausage biscuits.
After that we drove around four and a half hours to Montgomery, a drive which, once we’d returned to civilisation from the splendid isolation of Suches, was mostly interstate, and so wasn’t particularly interesting. Van and I definitely have different preferences when it comes to routes: she’s happy to bomb it down the interstate and get to the destination more quickly, whereas I much prefer the backroads, which are pretty much deserted, more fun to drive on and have much better views. Today, however, we needed to make up time, so truck-dodging on the I-85 it was.
We arrived in Montgomery around 3.30, and were immediately taken by just how quiet the city centre was. Montgomery is the state capital of Alabama, and although it’s not the biggest city, it’s historically very significant – not only was it here that the first shots of the American Civil War were fired, but it was central to the Civil Rights Movement. The Montgomery Bus Boycott, which sparked the rise of peaceful protest tactics and introduced the world to Martin Luther King, took place here in 1955-6, and the famous Selma to Montgomery March culminated on the steps of the State Capitol building. Today, however, the centre of Montgomery is eerily quiet – at one point we were wondering if we were about to encounter a marauding parade of zombies, because humans were very thin on the ground indeed.
We first of all visited the Rosa Parks Library and Museum at Troy University, the first part of which consisted of the ‘Cleveland Avenue Time Machine,’ a giant indoor yellow bus (driven by a one-eyed robot named ‘Mr Rivets’) that transports you back in time to 1865, and then through to 1956, exploring (by video screens on the walls of the bus) how the promise of reconstruction was ended, the introduction of the Jim Crow Laws, and how the landmark Plessy vs Ferguson case confirmed the ‘legality’ of segregation in the south. As a history teacher, this wasn’t anything new for me, but it was well presented (and there was a one-eyed robot!). The main museum then looks at the 1955-6 Bus Boycott, and how Parks’ refusal to give up her seat sparked a boycott that lasted almost a year, until the Supreme Court ordered the city to integrate the bus system. The museum was comprehensive, and it was inspiring to be in the streets where such a historical campaign occurred, and to learn more about how one woman’s polite but firm ‘no’ in the face of injustice snowballed into a mass action movement.
We then wandered around the centre of Montgomery a little more (although still failed to find many people – the 5pm end of work saw about three lone workers head to their cars), seeing the State Capitol Building and Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where MLK served as pastor between 1954 and 1960, which I hadn’t realised was literally steps away from the Capitol building itself.
From there, it was dinner time, and we headed out of town to Southern Comfort, a country restaurant that came very recommended, and for good reason. I had a very good southern dinner of catfish, cornbread and collard green, and finally got to try some fried green tomatoes – I can now verify that they’re absolutely delicious.
Highlights: fantastic day of eating, the Rosa Parks Museum
Lowlights: lots of boring interstate, the fear of impending zombie invasion.
Up next: inspiration, madness and a struggle to tune into Rio…