Saturday, June 7, 2008

Montgomery - The Civil Rights Memorial Center

My second stop was Montgomery, and I was unprepared for the Civil Rights Memorial Center, founded by the Southern Poverty Law Center. I was aware of the organization through their Teaching Tolerance magazine, and I had seen the memorial online, but there is nothing quite like seeing it in person.

The memorial itself has characteristics that I cherish in such works. It contains an essential quote, it teaches, it asks people to touch it, and it fosters and emotional response. I couldn't stop reading the timeline, touching the water, and thinking about the sacrifice of the people listed on the memorial. Maya Lin was the perfect choice for the design.

The Memorial Center takes everything a step further, however. The room devoted to the Memorial explains its origin in detail, describes the events surrounding each entry into the timeline, and offers a visual overview of the Civil Rights Movement. There is a short yet powerful video that provides context for the memorial. Finally, a Wall of Tolerance allows visitors to make a pledge of treating all people with tolerance. By having your name on the wall, there is a record of your promise - I hope I can live up to it. This destination is a must see for anyone traveling in the area. You can't visit and not be both impressed and humbled.

I also walked around the Alabama capitol, which may have seen more history than any other state outside the original 13. Alabama voted to secede there, Jefferson Davis was sworn in as President of the Confederacy, George Wallace made his famous "Segregation now!" speech, and the Selma to Montgomery March ended there. It also has a beautiful memorial to Alabama's Confederate soldiers.

Unfortunately, the Rosa Parks Museum was closed by the time I arrived. I guess I will need to return ... with my family.

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