Montgomery as I Know it; from a Retail Store to a Historical Giant!

March 15, 2012
Maher Alhaj Uniting America AmeriCorps Fellow

When I first came to this country, I did not know much about it. For instance, other than its reference to a retail store in Dearborn Michigan (Montgomery-World, a store that is no longer around), the word Montgomery did not mean anything to me. I had the vaguest idea about the history of that name, its resonance in our communities and why would such a store-name be of any significance. I did think the name was weird though and I remember asking my sister the following:  What does Montgomery mean? What a weird name for a store, isn’t it? However, after a few years passed and only after my trip to Alabama with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, did things became clear. 

While a trip to Alabama was totally inconvenient for me at the time, I am extremely grateful that I went. I did learn about the historic marches from Selma to Montgomery back in high school and how that was a part of the critical turning points in the Civil Rights movement here in the USA. But I was too “new” to connect the dots. My trip to Alabama has empowered me! To actually go to that region, participate in the reenactment of the 1965 marches, and witness the present changes in people’s attitudes and ideas, was overwhelmingly pleasant. 

The amount of history in Montgomery Alabama was astonishing. As we made our way on Dexter Avenue to the Capitol’s steps, where Martin Luther King made one of his famous speeches after that march in 1965, the only church that Dr. King was a pastor of was right there on our right. Dr. King was a pastor there from 1956 until 1960 and as the church guide explained to us, that church was the only one in which Dr. King was a pastor of. Not only that, but a couple of blocks down that road was the legendary Rosa Parks bus-stop (the one where she took the bus on which she refused to give up her seat to a white man, and in turn inspired the beginning of the historic Montgomery Bus Boycott). I also visited the house where Dr. King lived during that period of his life. Montgomery is nothing short of a giant to the Civil Rights movement here in the USA; what a small town with so much history!