The exciting part of living in this block was the fact that we got to see any entertainers that came into town or during say Thanksgiving time, with the Turkey Day classic, you might have had the parade coming in front of your house. And people would always laugh about, why do you wave to everybody, I said because this is the thoroughfare, we know everybody and it’s always been like.
This is family property and my great grandfather, who was an Alabama state senator during reconstruction—his name was John William Jones—is the person that owned a large amount of this property.
This neighborhood is called Centennial Hill, and it was the affluent African-American neighborhood here in Montgomery, which housed back in the day your politicians, your educators, professional people, doctors, lawyers, etc, that lived in this neighborhood. It also was the hub of a lot of black businesses.
It’s no surprise that the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church parsonage would be built in this neighborhood, which is two doors down from us. So anybody that happened to be assigned to be the minister of the church lived in that house, most notably Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was our neighbor for six years.
My memories of Civil Rights Movement and the people that were involved that came into the house is what I remember the most, Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy. During the Freedom Rides you had Joseph Lowery and James Farmer. You also had the students that were involved at that time, which would have been John Lewis and Diane Nash, James Bevel, Bernard Lafayette and others.
They were friends of my father, first. And they knew that this was a safe place to come and discuss, some place that they could relax.
The unique thing about this house is that it’s tri-level. You have a third floor that’s unseen that we refer to as the bar. My dad and the real leaders back then would go up to the bar and they would discuss and make plans, and then bring them downstairs to the students to carry out what those plans were.
The most memorable would be the Freedom Riders timeframe. It was a group from Nashville. And they were told that they would be protected, and of course, when they got to the Greyhound bus station it was a very eerie feeling. As soon as those doors opened, a large mob with all kinds of weapons started to attack them and to beat them, some hospitalized. They were scattered and dispersed and then came back together again at the African American First Baptist church on Ripley Street for another mass meeting that night.
Well, the mob followed them there and started to attack the church and breaking the windows and things of that nature. So, I believe it was Martin King that called Robert Kennedy and had the National Guard federalized and they brought the truck and loaded the freedom riders onto the truck and brought them here to the house.
Behind me is the Coca-Cola box and the stools that I’m sitting in that were housed in my father’s drug store, which was Dean Drug Store. When he renovated the drug store, all the things in the drug store from the lunch counter came here
We wound up with well over 33 some people that were here that were well taken care of. And you knew that they were here and you spoke to them because they were friends of your parents, but not realizing just what an important impact they made in the history.
Now when I come in the house and I walk through it and talk to other people that are visitors they come in and they say that they feel a spirit when they walk through the door, that they feel something when they come in.
We envision being able to open it up to the public to use it as a teaching tool. We really feel the spirit, which gives me the momentum and the motivation to carry on and to make sure that I maintain the history, especially of this house.