Montgomery was one of our stopping points on our drive from Savannah, Georgia to the Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee, and a chance to visit some important civil rights sights.
We drove through the sleepy Georgia countryside on Sunday morning on super straight roads lasting hundreds of miles each, past peach orchards, pecan producers, and signs selling iced tea and boiled peanuts. There was some clear agricultural wealth but there was a lot of rural poverty too: roadside wooden homes little more than sheds, beat-up pick up trucks, countless trailer parks, long-closed-down BBQ huts and abandoned gas stations. Roadside gun shops doubling as pawn shops: when times are hard, guns are often the most expensive item people around here have to sell. It began to feel a bit oppressive, roads as far as the eye can see, leading to nowhere.
Two things surprised me: how many baptist churches there were for seemingly so few people, and just how busy each and every one of the church car parks was. Maybe that’s why the roads were so quiet and we made great time arriving in Montgomery.
We set our watches back an hour as we’d crossed time zones entering Alabama, and headed for 315 South Jackson Street, Martin Luther King’s home from 1954-1960, when he led the bus boycotts as Pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and survived a bomb attack on his home.
We drove downtown but it was like a ghost town; everywhere was closed, including the Civil Rights Museum we had intended to visit. We walked round the Civil Rights trail and the Rosa Parks memorial, the site where she first refused to give up her bus seat in 1955.
Aside from walking through the tree-lined avenue of state buildings and seeing the first White House of the Confederacy, there wasn’t a great deal to do on this sleepy Sunday afternoon.
We set off out of town in search of F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s home on Felder Avenue. The Fitzgerald’s lived a bit of a nomadic lifestyle, travelling throughout the US and spending lots of time on the French Riviera, and although they only lived here for seven months, it was the longest time they had lived in any one house. Zelda’s parents were wealthy Montgomery people and F Scott met Zelda at a dance when he was stationed in the army just outside the city.
We were only the second visitors to the museum that day, so we got a personalised tour. It was fascinating to see F Scott Fitzgerald’s terrible term reports from Princeton University before he dropped out. It made me think of all the parallels with Jay Gatsby and his imagined history as a former “Oxford man.”
I could have spent all afternoon in there, but we had to go and check in to our luxury accommodation at the Super 8 motel.