Montgomery, Alabama: The Early Years
Montgomery, the capital city of Alabama, wasn’t always the bustling city it is today. Originally, it was the home of Native Americans, and villages were spread out where buildings stand today. In 1540, the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto visited the area where he searched for El Dorado, the mythical city of gold, although he never found it. Around 1717, the French built Fort Toulouse not far from present-day Montgomery in order to unsuccessfully counter British influence.
In the early 1800s, three towns were situated close together: Alabama Town, East Alabama, and Philadelphia. In 1819, these three towns were combined to form the city of Montgomery, named after General Richard Montgomery, who fought for independence during the Revolutionary War.
Montgomery Becomes the Capital
Although the city had been established nearly three decades before, Montgomery didn’t become the state’s capital until 1846. Tensions were building in the nation and Alabama was soon to make a momentous decision. As the threat of civil war approached, Alabamians decided to join several other southern states and secede from the Union. In 1861, the convention that created the Confederate States of America was held in Montgomery. The Confederacy fought in opposition to the Union during the Civil War from 1861 to 1865, but it ultimately lost the conflict.
Montgomery and the Civil Rights Movement
Although Alabama was no longer allowed to keep slaves after the war ended, the state remained segregated along racial lines. During the 1950s and 60s, the region became well known for its battle to retain its way of life, and Montgomery became a key location as civil rights activists fought for equality. One of the best-known events of the era was the bus boycott.
On December 1, 1955, a black seamstress and civil rights activist named Rosa Parks was arrested because she would not give up her seat at the front of the bus to a white passenger. At the time, buses were segregated, with blacks expected to sit at the back, while whites would sit toward the front. Parks’ refusal to move to the back of the vehicle and her subsequent arrest sparked outrage among black residents and led to a boycott of the buses that lasted 382 days. The city finally desegregated the system on December 21, 1956.
A 1965 drive to register black voters in another Alabama city, Selma, resulted in interracial violence. Civil rights groups responded by holding a protest march from Selma to Montgomery so that black Americans could appeal directly to state governor George Wallace at the state capital for greater voting rights. The four-day journey to Montgomery was led by Martin Luther King Jr. while he was a pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. The famous march convinced Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act, to outlaw discriminatory voting practices. It also inspired the Selma-to-Montgomery National Historic Trail, which was designed in 1996. A memorial in downtown Montgomery honors those who died while participating in the civil rights movement.
Interesting Facts and Places
- The First White House of the Confederacy is located in Montgomery. Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, lived in the building. It contains the Alabama Department of Archives and History, a historical museum and genealogical facility.
- Francis Scott Key (F. Scott) and Zelda Fitzgerald used to live in the city, and there is still a museum dedicated to the famous author and his wife.
- Old Alabama Town is a district that demonstrates what 19th-century living was like in the region.
- Nearby is the Maxwell Air Force Base, which is home to the Air University. It is the site where Wilbur and Orville Wright operated the world’s first flight training school in 1910. In 1903, the Wright brothers designed the first powered and controlled airplane.
- As of 2017, Montgomery’s population was 199,518.