Day 5 Blog – January 16, 2021
Montgomery Riverfront Park
On Day Five of our learning experiences with LEAP, we visited the Montgomery Riverfront Park in Alabama which runs along the bank of the Alabama River, which turned out to be a great start to our day!
We toured a few of their major attractions such as the Harriott II Riverboat, the Amphitheatre, and the Union Station Train Shed. The Harriott II Riverboat has a 19th century structural design and was originally named the Alabama Star.
Within walking distance from the docked riverboat is the Riverwalk Amphitheater, built in 2003, with an intentionally unique design that allows it to sustain flooding from the nearby river. In that same area was a small mural of Alabama’s State Capitol Building designed using tile blueprints of the Capitol, which I thought was very creative and neat.
At the pavilion, we had our picnic lunch from a local restaurant, Cahawba House, and were treated with a train traveling past. (Interestingly, the Union Station Train Shed, built in 1898, once housed six different train tracks from six different railroads up until it stopped operating in the 1970s.)
The pavilion is located right across and uphill from the amphitheater. It was too enticing, after lunch, so, in the area in front of the amphitheater, Jayelynn and Quinn had a race downhill. This race did not result in a winner; it was a two-way tie!
Montgomery Riverfront Park was also filled with storyboards telling the history of domestic slave trade. In 1808, Congress banned the importation of slaves. Although importing slaves was no longer legal, the demand for labor in the South increased because of the fluctuating price of cotton and the creation of the cotton gin. For fifty years, the slave traders transferred slaves from the upper south to Alabama. From 1808 to 1860 the slave population started at approximately 40,000 and increased to more than 435,000.
Rosa Parks Monument
After concluding our time at the Montgomery Riverfront Park, we strolled to Court Square to honor a leading figure who helped spark the Civil Rights Movement in the United States: Rosa Parks.
The statue of Rosa Parks was revealed to the public on December 1, 2019 and is located near the bus stop where she refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in 1955. Parks sparked the motivation for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was led by Martin Luther King, Jr. The Boycott asked all African American residents in Montgomery, Alabama to refuse to use public transportation. The Bus Boycott put a strain on the public transportation’s finances until the Supreme Court, in Browder v. Gayle, ruled that it is unconstitutional to have segregated busing, which forced the City of Montgomery to repeal its segregation law. On December 21, 1965, one victory of many had been won for the Civil Rights Movement due to Rosa Parks’ strength to stand firm for what she believed in.
Rosa Parks’ statue represents an enormous amount of strength: I found it inspiring and I’m sure it inspires many others.
I believe that this was a great step in history for African Americans that will never be forgotten, and it still resonates within society today. Rosa Parks left us with a lifelong lesson that is best captured in her words, “To bring about change, you must not be afraid to take the first step. We will fail when we fail to try.”
Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts
After visiting the Rosa Parks statue, we LEAPed to our third art museum on our trip. The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) had an array of exhibits for us to see. The “Blow Up II” exhibit was filled with inflatable contemporary art, the Caddell Sculpture Garden was a beautifully front entrance designed to walk through before entering the actual museum, and a “Fact or Fiction” exhibit offered pieces designed to create a narrative and tell a story. Along with these exhibits, there were many permanent works on display as well, although the second-floor galleries were closed.
As we entered the Caddell Sculpture Garden, we immediately noticed a sculpture by an artist whose works we had seen before. (As a fun little twist, Professor Yawn offered a $10 gift card to whoever could guess the artist first. Sadly, I could not think of the artists’ name fast enough, but Ilexus did, so she will enjoy some free coffee soon!) The sculpture for the win was “Chance Meeting” by George Segal.
Next, we wandered on to the “Rough n’ Tumble” sculpture by Patrick Dougherty, which was made from cherry laurel, Ligustrum, and sweet gum. for a quick photo op.
We then stopped for a closer look at James Grimes’ sculpture of a dandelion that seemed to be blowing over the glistening water beneath it.
Once inside MMFA, the first exhibit we viewed was “Fact or Fiction,” which was filled with many interesting pieces. My favorite piece from that exhibit was one by Albrecht Durer titled “The Beast with Two Horns Like a Lamb.” This piece was made in 1511 by woodcut on heavy laid paper; with its ominous vibe and lamblike creatures, the artwork seemed to jump right off the wall.
The next room we made our way into was very spacious with abstract art pieces hanging from wall to wall, but the most breathtaking part of this room was the painted murals on the glass windows that shined as the sun beamed brightly through.
The most exciting exhibit for me came next, “Blow Up II.” This exhibit was filled with different kinds of inflatable artwork. The coolest inflatables were the movie or TV show characters dressed as noble knights! There was an inflatable Batman, Shrek, Spiderman, Mickey Mouse, and Bart Simpson. The inflatables were so well detailed; I could hardly tell they were inflatables and thought they were made from stone.
As we got further into the museum, we started seeing more and more pieces from artists we recognize. We saw a piece from James Surls, Sam Houston State graduate.
Also, “New York Office”…
…by Edward Hopper who is most famous for his painting called “Night Hawks,” one of the most recognizable paintings in American art. And, we all knew we had seen the Gilbert Stuart “unfinished” painting of George Washington, but no one had a $1 bill with which to compare!
I personally made a huge connection today between one of my favorite paintings in the Dallas Museum of Art and my favorite in the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. My favorite painting at MMFA was the “Clown with Long Nose” by Walt Khan; when I saw it, I thought I had seen that style of painting before. Sure enough, it was the same artist as my favorite painting in the Dallas Museum of Art.
As we explore more and more museums, looking at art begins to feel a lot more meaningful and educational. Making even small connections between a painting and the artist makes me realize how much I am actually learning.
Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church
As the sun was closing down on us, we left MMFA for downtown Montgomery again. Just a couple of blocks from the Rosa Parks statue we stopped at earlier in the day is a National Historic Landmark, the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church.
The church opened in 1877 and is particularly famous for being the first location where Martin Luther King, Jr. preached. The church is a National Historic Landmark because of significance during the Civil Rights Movement. It was a center point during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was led by Dr. King. The church has held up for many decades and is normally open to the public for tours (well, before COVID-19).
All I could think about during the time we were standing out on the front sidewalk was how accurate it is when people say, “gone, but not forgotten.” That statement is so true for Dr. King.
He left a prodigious legacy behind and will permanently be relevant to our history because he paved the way for so many lives, for so much change. His drive is admirable in so many ways—it is not easy to find people so willing to boldly stand up for what they believe in. That realization stuck with me and inspired me to want to become the best version of myself.
Alabama State Capitol
After taking in the history of the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, we walked the last short stretch of the 54-mile path that Dr. King originally led from Selma, AL to Montgomery, AL to reach the Alabama State Capitol.
I fell in love with the Greek Revival architecture style of the Capitol. The view is striking, especially at sunset, overlooking downtown Montgomery. The Alabama marble stairs leading up to the Capitol adds a special look to the building.
We did not get past the stairs leading to the Capitol, though—it was blocked due to worries arising about potential protests. However, I (we all) still enjoyed viewing this site.
Day Five has been filled with incredible opportunities to immerse ourselves in civil rights history, as we recognize that we still stand in the long shadows of Dr. King and Rosa Parks.