Eyewitness to American History
The approach to the Alabama State Capitol up Dexter Avenue in Montgomery takes in some of the most important historical landmarks in U.S. History.
Built in 1851, on the ruins of an earlier structure that lasted only two years before it was destroyed by fire in 1849, the imposing capitol building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and also is a U.S. National Historic Landmark. From its role as the First Capitol of the Confederacy to the days when Governor George Wallace walked
the halls of power here during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, the Alabama State Capitol tells a story unlike that of any other similar structure in the nation.
Built in the Greek Revival Style, the capitol building was designed by 19th century architect Barachias Holt. Its noted interior spiral stairway was built by the famed African-American engineer Horace King. Born into slavery, King was freed by his former master John King and granted all the rights of a free man by Special Act of the Alabama State
Legislature. He is noted for his work as a designer and builder of covered bridges, among them the Red Oak Covered Bridge in Georgia.
When the Constitutional crisis of 1860 led to the secession of South Carolina from the Union, Alabama followed her sister Southern states in establishing the new Confederate States of America. Because Montgomery was centrally located for delegates from the original six states of the Confederacy, the city was selected for the initial meeting intended to establish cooperation between the states.
On February 4, 1861, the delegates met in the Senate Chamber of the Alabama State Capitol and in four days produced a draft constitution and declared themselves a provisional legislature for the new country.
Named President of the newly-formed Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis delivered his inaugural address from the portico of the capitol building on February 18, 1861. The spot where he stood is now marked by a bronze star, placed there by the ladies of the Daughters of the Confederacy (today’s U.D.C.).
The Alabama State Capitol remained the Capitol of the Confederacy until May of 1861, when the government moved to Richmond, Virginia. The defiant former capitol of the South continued its service to the people of Alabama as a Confederate state capitol until the spring of 1865, when it was occupied by Union troops during Wilson’s Raid on Alabama and Georgia.
The Alabama State Capitol against attracted worldwide attention during the 1950s and 1960s when the Civil Rights Movement reached its height.
Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., served as minister from 1954 to 1960, is located just one block down Dexter Avenue from the front portico of the capitol building. It is remarkable that the two buildings that figured so prominently in the Civil Rights struggle still stand within easy sight of each other.
In 1961, Governor John Patterson raised the Confederate battle flag over the Alabama capitol building as part of the centennial observance of the War Between the States and it flew either over the structure or as part of a display at an adjacent monument until 2015.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott of the 1950s had already brought the attention of the nation to Alabama’s capital city. The eyes of the world turned there in 1965 when the Selma to Montgomery March took place, bringing thousands of protesters to the front of the state capitol. The march is now commemorated by the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail.
It is a little known fact that segregation era Governor George C. Wallace later renounced segregation and went on to serve four terms. In the election for his final term (1983-1987), he received widespread support from voters of all races.
The historic building stands as a reminder and witness to the dramatic changes that have come to Alabama. The state is now noted for its business climate, natural beauty, historic sites and hospitality and rolls out the welcome mat to visitors form around the world.
The Alabama State Capitol is located at 600 Dexter Avenue in Montgomery and is now maintained and preserved by the Alabama Historical Commission. The building is open to the public Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The building is free to visit and free guided tours can be arranged.