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Alabama State Capitol
Photo by Ron Cogswell
The Alabama State Capitol, listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the First Confederate Capitol, is the state capitol building for Alabama. Located on Capitol Hill, originally Goat Hill, in Montgomery, it was declared a National Historic Landmark on December 19, 1960.
Alabama has had five political capitals during its history since it was designated as a territory of the United States. The first was the territorial capital in St. Stephens in 1817; the state organizing convention was held in Huntsville in 1819, and the first "permanent" capital was designated in 1820 as Cahaba. The legislature moved the capital to Tuscaloosa in 1826, where it was housed in a new three-story building. Finally, in 1846, the capital was moved again to Montgomery. These changes followed the development of greater population in the state, as European-American settlers moved in, often accompanied by their slaves, or purchasing more enslaved African Americans after arrival here. Large parts of the state were developed for King Cotton.
The first capitol building in Montgomery, located where the current building stands, burned after two years. The current building was completed in 1851, and additional wings were added over the course of the following 140 years.
The current capitol building temporarily served as the Confederate Capitol while Montgomery served as the first political capital of the Confederate States of America in 1861, before Richmond, Virginia was designated as the capital. Delegates meeting as the Montgomery Convention in the Senate Chamber drew up the Provisional Constitution of the Confederate States on February 4, 1861. The convention also adopted the Permanent Constitution here on March 11, 1861.
Civil Rights Movement
On March 25, 1965, the third Selma to Montgomery march ended here with 25,000 protesters at the foot of the capitol steps on Dexter Avenue. Prominent protesters included Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Coretta Scott King, Ralph Bunche, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, John Lewis, James Baldwin, Harry Belafonte, and Joan Baez.
A delegation from the protestors attempted to see Governor George Wallace to give him a petition that asked for an end to racial discrimination in Alabama. The governor had sent word that he would see the delegation, but they were denied entry to the capitol grounds twice and told no one would be let through. State police surrounded the capitol and prevented the marcher's delegation entry to the grounds. Martin Luther King Jr. then gave an impassioned speech at the base of the steps:
We are not about to turn around. We are on the move now. Yes, we are on the move and no wave of racism can stop us.
— Martin Luther King Jr.
The delegation was later let through into the capitol, but were told that Wallace's office was closed for the day. The delegation later left, without having been able to give their petition to anyone. It read:
We have come not only five days and fifty miles but we have come from three centuries of suffering and hardship. We have come to you, the Governor of Alabama, to declare that we must have our freedom now. We must have the right to vote; we must have equal protection of the law and an end to police brutality.
— Selma to Montgomery marchers petition
The capitol steps have continued to be the rallying point for civil demonstrations over the succeeding years. Memorial Selma to Montgomery marches have ended at the steps on several occasions. The most recent, in honor of what would have been King's 83rd birthday, was held on January 15, 2012. On this occasion the marchers were greeted by Governor Robert J. Bentley.
Today, the march route is memorialized as the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, a designated National Historic Trail.
Because of the march and the events surrounding it the Voting Rights Act became law on August 6, 1965.