Occupying the adjacent corner from the MLK, Jr. house.
Attempts to save King-era hotel hold promise (via USA Today)
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Ben Moore Hotel building sits in the heart of civil rights history in Montgomery — along with other important landmarks such as Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, the King parsonage, First Baptist Church, and the city of St. Jude. (... See below to read more.)
Located at High and Jackson streets, the four-story Ben Moore offered lodging, a safe place for meetings and a vibrant social life free from the bigotry and hostilities of the Southern white racism of the 1950s and '60s. Even today in the basement is an evocative barbershop full of civil rights-era news pictures and portraits, including one of its most famous customers, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., when he lived in the now-restored parsonage just yards up Jackson Street.
With the exception of the barbershop, the rest of the hotel is only a memory of its former self. The first floor Majestic Cafe no longer serves meals. The second and third floor rooms that once provided rest for activists, luminaries and travelers are instead populated with bird droppings and peeling paint.
Only the occasional pigeon and a pair of rusting soda pop coolers occupy the fourth floor, which was once a dance hall.
Yet a small group of men are determined to resuscitate the hotel, convert it into a museum and perhaps also offer some office space.
Edward L. Davis and his family own the Ben Moore Hotel property. Davis is leading a two-year-old fund-raising organization that he said has collected about $20,000 so far, with the goal of raising $250,000.
Davis also has the support of Mayor Bobby Bright. The mayor said the Davis-led group applied to the city for a $197,000 grant for the Ben Moore and that last month he recommended the federal government approve $100,000. Bright is awaiting a response from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
"We're trying to make Montgomery the history mecca of the South," Bright said. "And the Ben Moore Hotel is just another spoke in the wheel that will round this task out."
Davis can vividly talk about his memories of the hotel and the surrounding neighborhood, when life — as well as funeral processions — passed by.
"High and Jackson is really about the last stronghold for blacks," Davis said. "Even when you died, your body used to come up around this corner. Everybody would be standing out there."
The 52-year-old hotel is in the Centennial Hill business and residential district, which traces its own history back to the Reconstruction days of the 1870s.
Yet with the coming of integration, freeways, suburbs and malls, the historically African-American street corners, such as High and Jackson, are increasingly absent of the crowds and commerce. Still, Davis is attracting support from those who see the importance of preserving the the hotel for future generations.
"It's an idea whose time has come, to coin a phrase," said the Rev. Lee Houston Jr., a community activist.
Lawrence Cole Jr., a businessman, envisions the hotel as a centerpiece in revitalizing an African-American district to attract tourist money. It's the same thing leaders have been doing in revitalizing the Beale Street music district in Memphis It's what visionaries are trying to do along Farish Street, a Jackson, Miss., black business and professional district that once made the national list of endangered landmarks.
"That's the marrying of historic preservation with economic development," Cole said. "That's what we want to do."
The one business remaining in the hotel is a piece of history.
The Malden Brothers barbershop has huge pictures of an often-forgotten, but well-documented 1960 showdown between blacks and the police over equal rights to service in the Montgomery County Courthouse eatery, plus the worldly known Selma to Montgomery March of 1965.
Yet barber Nelson Malden's own place in history is that he waited on King as early as 1954, the year before the minister won fame for his leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott against segregated seating.
"When we first started cutting his hair, he was just like a regular customer, just like a regular minister," Mallden said. Davis and his supporters haven't announced a start up time and completion of the Ben Moore project. Cole said the plan is to step up efforts to secure the money needed to pay for work.
They may not want to approach Shirley Davis, a homemaker who lives on South Jackson just across from the hotel. She said she thinks the building should be torn down.
"It's just in the way," Davis said. "It's no use. There would be too much traffic on this street. People would be parking everywhere."
Joe Fitzpatrick, a retired bricklayer who lives down the street, said he likes the idea of the restoration because the Ben Moore means a lot to him and his fellow African Americans. He also can talk about having witnessed the heady moments of the civil rights movement.
"King was a powerful man," Fitzpatrick said. "I remember all of that."
Posts are a combination of my own research, visits, and conversations, plus various information found around the web. I try to provide sources, but if you have specific questions, feel free to ask!