Capitol never, ever disappoints this visitor

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 12, 2014

As I walked toward the state Capitol earlier this week, I wondered if other people are as awestruck by it as I am.

I believe it was with the Girl Scouts that I first visited the lovely Greek Revival building in Montgomery as an elementary school student. I remember well all the discussions about the planned trip, and the excitement of little girls who were excited because they had been told they should be.

Then, I didn’t understand the history of the things that had happened there, but I remember anecdotes shared by the docent, as well as marveling at the marble staircase.

I have been back many times – as a House page when the legislature still met in the lovely old chambers; as a member of a college class that interviewed Gov. George Wallace, then much in decline; to lobby the Riley administration for a project in the city in which I then lived; for special ceremonies. One of the coldest days I can remember is the January one on which Fob James took the oath for the first time. I don’t remember seeing him, but I do remember marching with the band past a frozen fountain on Dexter Avenue that raw winter morning as we headed toward Goat Hill.

Each time, there was awe – specifically for the building as a center of power in the state. But increasingly, as the years have gone by, I am also awestruck by the juxtapositions of history. Jefferson Davis took the oath of office of the Confederate States of America on the front steps in a war with slavery as a central theme. A century later, the Selma to Montgomery march ended at the front marble staircase of the Capitol, with the marches and events surrounding them directly leading to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

As a Girl Scout, I visited a Capitol that had a fiery governor named Wallace who had not let an assassin’s bullet quell his ambition to become president; as college students, we visited that same governor as a humbled man who had sought to make amends for his racist past.

This week, I was there to interview a man who is determined to improve the efficiency of the government headquartered there. Safe money is on his success.

Whether you are as awestruck as I or not, most would agree the Capitol is a lovely, storied place. Across the street, at Archives and History, the recently revamped Museum of Alabama also shares our collective state story.

If you are bored with summer, it’s an easy road trip and a good history lesson for kids.