“So how much is the admission price?” asks a woman in front of me, searching earnestly in her bag for her wallet.
She draws out her money ready to pay as she surveys the names engraved in the granite before her.
“Hmm,” she says “I know the names Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, but I’m not sure I know who James Chaney was.”
Perhaps, like her, for you that name doesn’t ring such a bell. Yet Chaney, like the other names above, was part of the Civil Rights Movement (he was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan).
You can find all these names together, along with another 37 of them, at the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, Alabama–a city rich steeped in Civil Rights history.
There’s an outside and inside area to the memorial. Outside, on what looks like an upside-down cone, quiet water laps over a smooth, black granite fountain wall while music plays in the background.
The fountain is a testament to the struggles of 40 people who were martyred for equal and integrated treatment.
The dates range from 1954 when the Supreme Court outlawed school segregation with the momentous Brown v. Board case and ends with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968.
Inspiration for the memorial came from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s quotation “…we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream…” from his “I Have a Dream Speech”.
A continuous stream of water has been incorporated into this serene fountain created by designer Maya Lin (famous for the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington DC). Water is used both for its soothing and its healing effect in the sculpture.
Note that the memorial is guarded by a sentry positioned across the street (so as not to make it look like a prison and thereby intimidate visitors).
The Memorial Center inside is a place everybody should visit at least once in their lifetime. Photos, newspaper reports and exhibits highlight events of the Movement.
A documentary film talks about the hateful and brutal events that victims, like James Chaney, suffered. A further darkened room shows the Wall of Tolerance – a giant screen that shows the names of people worldwide who have promised to fight injustice.
This is the only memorial of its kind.
It’s fitting that the Memorial is close to the church where Dr. King was pastor during the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955-56 and the capitol steps where the Selma-to- Montgomery voting rights march ended in 1965.
The Memorial plaza is open 24/7 and is a great place for contemplation and to reflect on those who died for the struggle. It’s a place to think of how far we have come – and how far we still have to go.
There is no admission fee. Perhaps because the price has already been paid. In full.
It’s a memorial well worth a visit.