Alabama Road Trip No. 29
Famous Alabamians Hometown Heroes Road Trip
by Marilyn Jones Stamps
Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Hank Williams Sr. and George Washington Carver – these names rank among the most notable people in America. This Famous Alabamians Hometown Heroes Road Trip will take you to towns and museums in South Alabama associated with these legendary figures as well as others who were either born in the state or lived here. Be prepared to spend some extra time traveling Alabama, as this road trip covers more than 200 miles and features stops from Mobile to Tuskegee.
Visit Mobile: Hank Aaron’s Hometown
Traveling I–65 south from Montgomery or I–10 from Mississippi or Florida, begin your tour in Mobile where Mardi Gras and Moon Pies spell seasonal fun and where a stadium and museum honor one of Alabama’s most famous native sons, Henry “Hank” Aaron. Located at the home stadium of the Mobile BayBears, the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum (755 Bolling Brothers Blvd.; 251–479–2327) includes seven rooms and hundreds of artifacts relating to the athlete’s family life and his stellar baseball career.
Born on Feb. 5, 1934, Aaron ascended the ranks of the Negro Leagues to become a major league baseball icon. He played 23 years as an outfielder for the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves, during which time he set many of baseball’s most illustrious records. Aaron was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982.
Five miles away from the stadium is the home of Confederate Rear Adm. and Brig. Gen. Raphael Semmes who left an enduring legacy as captain of the CSS Alabama, the most famous of the Confederate commerce raiders. The nearby History Museum of Mobile (111 South Royal St.; 251–208–7569) is a good place to stop to learn of the history and heritage of the area. After a day of touring, check into The Battle House Renaissance Hotel & Spa (26 N. Royal St.; 251–338–2000) where the AAA-rated, Four-Diamond hotel offers Mobile’s only Four-Diamond restaurant, a magnificent ballroom and spa, and a bar honoring Joe Cain, another hometown hero. Mardi Gras originated in the New World here in 1703 when Mobile was a French colony. It continues today in Alabama’s port city with more than two weeks of parades and balls and lots of beads, candy and Moon Pies. The celebration culminates on Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent. The Sunday before Fat Tuesday is observed as Joe Cain Day. Cain, who took to the streets in a one-float parade on Shrove Tuesday in 1866 and returned the following year accompanied by some off-key musicians, is credited with resurrecting Mardi Gras in Mobile after it was banned by Union troops following the Civil War.
Explore Georgiana: Where Hank Learned To Play the Guitar
From Mobile, take I–65 north and continue 104 miles to Exit 114 in Georgiana. Just two miles off the interstate is the Hank Williams Boyhood Home & Museum Born Sept. 17, 1923, on a farm in Mount Olive, Ala., Williams moved with his family to Georgiana in the late 1930s when his father was admitted into a veteran’s hospital. Shortly after they moved, their rental house caught fire and the family relocated to the house at 127 Rose St. While visiting, you’ll see the surroundings that shaped the singer’s life and learn about a black street singer named Rufus “Tee-Tot” Payne, who taught Hank how to play the guitar.
The best time to visit is during the Hank Williams Music Festival in June, which attracts large crowds and is Georgiana’s salute to its hometown hero.
Discover Montgomery: Hank and Heroes of the Civil War and Civil Rights Eras
Continue up I–65 and take Exit 172 to downtown Montgomery. Park your car on Commerce Street where another museum also honors the legend of country music. Containing photos and more than 17 pieces of clothing, boots, ties, rare videos, albums and furniture, the Hank Williams Museum (118 Commerce St.; 334–262–3600) boasts the most complete collection of memorabilia relating to the singer in the country, including the 1952 baby blue Cadillac in which he made his final journey.
Williams lived in Montgomery off and on from 1937 through 1952. Although he only lived to be 29, he sang his way into the hearts of millions with such songs as “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Hey Good Lookin’” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Williams is buried at Montgomery’s Oakwood Cemetery Annex next to his ex-wife, Audrey.
Remember Rosa Parks: The Mother of the Movement
Three blocks away from the Hank Williams Museum is a museum that pays tribute to Rosa Parks, who was born Rosa Louise McCauley in nearby Tuskegee on Feb. 4, 1913. Located on the very site where she was arrested Dec. 1, 1955, for refusing to give her seat to white passengers on a city bus, the Rosa Parks Museum & Library and Children’s Wing (252 Montgomery St.; 334–241–8615) chronicles the history of the Civil Rights Movement and the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott. During your visit, you’ll see historical photos of Parks’ arrest, newspaper clippings, interactive exhibits and a replica of the bus on which she was riding. As a keepsake, you can have your photograph made while seated next to a life-size bronze sculpture of Parks.
Although she championed many causes for civil rights in her early life, Rosa Parks’ heroic act of civil disobedience on a Montgomery bus is forever recorded as the spark that ignited the Civil Rights Movement and changed the course of history in America. Following her death in 2005, her body was permitted to lie in state in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, making her the only woman and second African-American in history to receive such an honor.
See Where President Davis Lived and Dr. King Preached
Six blocks away on Dexter Avenue you’ll find the Alabama State Capitol, with a history that’s intertwined with both the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement in America. Adjacent to the Capitol and facing Washington Avenue is the First White House of the Confederacy, where President Jefferson Davis and his family lived when Montgomery was the capital. Go up the steps and inside the house museum where a tour guide in period dress will gladly share stories about the Davis family.
Down the street from the Capitol is the red brick Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church (454 Dexter Ave.; 334–263–3970) where Martin Luther King Jr. preached his message of hope and brotherhood and rose to prominence as the leader of the Civil Rights Movement. King was born in Atlanta on Jan. 15, 1929. In 1964, at age 35, he became the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Go inside the church to see the pulpit where he preached his first sermon then go downstairs to the basement to view the mural depicting his civil rights journey from Montgomery to Memphis, where he was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Run your hands through the cooling waters of the Civil Rights Memorial a block behind King’s church, where a biblical quote from his “I Have A Dream” speech reads: “…Until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Run your hands through the cooling waters of the Civil Rights Memorial a block behind King’s church where a biblical quote from his “I Have A Dream” speech reads: “…Until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Meet the Heroes of Historic Tuskegee
From Montgomery, travel about 35 miles east on I–85 to Tuskegee, where you’ll visit museums dedicated to heroes like Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver and the Tuskegee Airmen. To get to Tuskegee University (formerly Tuskegee Institute), take Exit 32 and turn right onto Pleasant Springs Drive. Travel about two miles and turn left onto Franklin Road and continue for 3.8 miles to where Franklin Road ends at a traffic light at West Montgomery Road (locals call this Old Montgomery Road). If you look across the street while stopped at the light, you’ll see the private residence where singer/songwriter Lionel Richie grew up and still calls home. At this stoplight, turn left onto West Montgomery Road. Turn left at the following stoplight and continue through Lincoln Gates onto Booker T. Washington Boulevard. This is the main entrance into the campus. Veering to your right, you will see the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center (334-727-3000). Go past the front of the hotel and look for the entrance that leads to the hotel’s parking deck. (Note: There is currently no sign that designates the parking at the Kellogg Conference Center.) Be sure to park on the top level of the parking deck for easy access to the campus and the Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site (334-727-3200), which is managed by the National Park Service and includes the George Washington Carver Museum and The Oaks, where President Booker T. Washington and his family lived during the formative years of Tuskegee Institute.
From the top floor of the parking deck, walk through the breezeway that faces the back of the George Washington Carver Museum. Go inside the museum to see exhibits that showcase the scientist’s empirical research with the peanut, the sweet potato, soybeans and other crops, and view displays that honor him as an artist and a humanitarian. Exhibits depicting the history of Tuskegee Institute are also on display. When Carver was recruited by President Booker T. Washington to teach in Alabama, he had only planned to stay at Tuskegee a short while. However, he ended up living here until he died on Jan. 5, 1943, near the age of 79.
In 2012, the National Park Service began a major restoration of the Carver Museum which is scheduled for completion in summer 2013. Tours of the National Historic Site begin at 9 and 10:30 a.m. and 1, 2:30 and 4 p.m. on the steps of The Oaks. Group tours are limited to 25 people at a time. Visitors should call 334-727-6390 for more information.
After touring the Carver Museum, exit through the front door and turn right. Walk down the sidewalk and cross the street to see the monument depicting Booker T. Washington lifting the veil of ignorance from the black race. You’re now back on Booker T. Washington Boulevard. If you continue down this street, you will see the historic Tuskegee Chapel. Next to the chapel are the gravesites of both Washington and Carver.
Return to your car and exit the Kellogg Center parking deck to the left. From the short driveway leaving the parking deck, turn left onto Booker T. Washington Boulevard. Continue to Lincoln Gates and turn left onto West Montgomery Road for a visit to The Oaks. Drive past The Oaks on the right and park in the lot just beyond it. Inside the house museum, you’ll learn about Washington’s philosophy on education and self-help and view the surroundings that characterized his family life.
Leaving The Oaks, turn right onto West Montgomery Road. Continue downtown to Elm Street for a visit to the Tuskegee Human & Civil Rights Multicultural Center. The center serves as a visitor center for information on Tuskegee and Macon County.
The Tuskegee Human & Civil Rights Multicultural Center
A walk-through-time museum, the Tuskegee Human & Civil Rights Multicultural Center (104 S. Elm St.; 334–724–0800), provides a historical overview of the Tuskegee and Macon County area – from the period when Native Americans lived here to modern-day. Exhibits showcase the role of Tuskegee in the Civil Rights Movement, the impact of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and the people who have helped to shape local, state and national history.
Soar With the Heroic Tuskegee Airmen
Next, prepare to soar with the “Red Tails” at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site (1616 Chappie James Ave.; 334–724–0922), also managed by the National Park Service. To get there from the Multicultural Center, turn left onto Elm Street. At the traffic light, turn right onto Martin Luther King Highway (Highway 80). Travel past the historic Macon County Courthouse across from the Square and continue on Highway 80. Just on the outskirts of town, you’ll see Chappie James Avenue and signs directing you to the Airmen Site and the red brick building known as Hangar #1. Long before George Lucas’ epic film Red Tails hit the silver screen and was released on DVD in 2012, the 99th Pursuit Squadron established on March 19, 1941, and the 332nd Fighter Group, now known as the Tuskegee Airmen, had already made history. Tasked with the mission of proving its young men were fit for military service and on par with whites as fighter pilots during World War II, Tuskegee trained 994 pilots and sent approximately 450 overseas. Their lasting legacy was integration of the U.S. military in 1948, a major step toward equal rights in America. When you arrive at the site, watch the orientation video shown by the National Park Service staff and visit the small gift shop before taking the self-guided tour of the hangar. If you really like museums, you could spend hours here listening to heroic stories and gazing at the historical photos, static exhibits, cockpits and planes used by the all-black units that trained at Moton Field.
Where to Stay and Eat
At the end of this tour, you can choose to dine on a soul food meal and spend the night at the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center in Tuskegee or return to Montgomery to experience nightlife in The Alley, Montgomery’s expanded entertainment district. For a complete list of dining and lodging options in Montgomery, go to visitingmontgomery.com.
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