Known as the “Cradle of the Confederacy” and the “Birthplace of Civil Rights,” Montgomery holds its diverse history in tender hands. Without glossing over the tragedies that burned these eras into our country’s legacy, the stories are told with sensitivity and grace in every venue. Our first stop was Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where 24-year old Martin Luther King began his six-year ministry in 1954.
The year after Dr. King arrived in Montgomery, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to relinquish her seat on a city bus. The next day, the meeting to launch the Montgomery Bus Boycott was held in the church basement. Dr. King, already known for his oratory skills, was chosen to lead the group that called themselves the Montgomery Improvement Association.
The Rosa Parks Museum has a wonderful multimedia presentation of the events surrounding this ordinary woman’s extraordinary courage. Her arrest on December 1, 1955 was the catalyst that led to the 382-day Montgomery Bus Boycott and the launch of the 20th century civil rights movement.
Photos weren’t allowed inside the museum, but we loved running into these “Soul Sistahs” from Mississippi.
We read about MLK’s epiphany in the Rosa Parks Museum, and wanted to see the room where it took place. I called the Dexter Parsonage Museum to see if we could catch the next tour, only to be told they were closing in 20 minutes.
“Let’s go anyway,” insisted Russ. “Maybe they’ll let us just look at the kitchen.” When we arrived, we immediately connected with Dr. Shirley Cherry, a life long educator with a passion for MLK. She agreed to give us a quick look at the parsonage where Dr. King lived from 1954 to 1959. That quick look extended into a two-hour private history lesson, not only about the house, but also of Dr. King’s philosophy of love and non-violence that changed the world.
THE EPIPHANY: Dr. and Mrs. King, who recently had become new parents, were receiving up to 40 threatening phone calls a day during the bus boycott. Late Friday night on January 27, 1956, Dr. King received a particularly menacing death threat while his family slept. Unnerved and unsure of himself, he went into the kitchen and fixed himself a pot of coffee.
“I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud.
The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”
At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: “Martin Luther, stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.” Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.”