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Preservation of the Montgomery Greyhound Bus Terminal

December 6, 2012

Preservation of the Montgomery Greyhound Bus Terminal

Project Partners: U.S. General Services Administration, U.S. District Court, Alabama Historical Commission, and Greyhound Bus Station Advisory Committee

Award: The Federal Partnerships in Historic Preservation Award presented by The National Trust for Historic Preservation/Advisory Council for Historic Preservation

Project Description: Two buildings of significance to American civil rights history sit side-by-side in Montgomery, Alabama. They tell powerful stories about two facets of the 1955-1965 American Civil Rights Movement: those who pursued judicial remedies and those who used nonviolent protests. One building is the elegant 1933 federal courthouse and former post office, from which U.S. District Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr. presided over many crucial civil rights cases (1955-1979), issuing decisions that shaped American constitutional law. The other is a modest 1951 Greyhound bus station where young Freedom Riders, tired of waiting for legal remedies, used nonviolent protest to end racial segregation in interstate travel.

In the 1990s, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) began planning for the expansion of the Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, renamed in 1992 to honor Frank M. Johnson, Jr. The bus station stood within the area needed to secure the proposed new courthouse complex, consisting of the historic building and a new annex. The Section 106 (historic preservation compliance) process for this project brought together GSA, The Alabama Historical Commission (AHC), the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama and members of the Greyhound Bus Station Advisory Committee, who have worked for almost two decades to preserve, use, and interpret the bus station. Its location next to Frank M. Johnson’s courtroom offered unique opportunities for interpretation of a shared history and the power of place to make that history tangible.

In 1996, during project planning, GSA nominated the Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse for listing in the National Register of Historic Places and prepared a Building Preservation Plan to ensure that the rehabilitation would respect significant features. With construction of the Courthouse Annex complete in 2002, GSA embarked on a rehabilitation of the courthouse, connecting it to the annex. As part of the project, the historically significant areas, including the façade, lobby and Johnson’s chambers and courtroom were meticulously restored.

Once the courthouse rehabilitation was complete, attention turned to the bus station. Using transportation enhancement and state funds, the Alabama Historical Commission cleaned and re-pointed the façade, and replicated the original Greyhound signs. The AHC developed and unveiled an award-winning exterior exhibit in 2008. AHC later cleaned and rehabilitated the interior and began developing permanent exhibits. Meanwhile, GSA contributed to the effort of repairing the roof.

On May 20, 2011, the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Freedom Rides, AHC opened the Freedom Rides Museum in Montgomery’s historic Greyhound bus station. The rehabilitation and reuse of the bus station is meeting community needs for economic development and education. Montgomery was a major theatre in the civil rights struggles. Three key events took place there: the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, the 1961 Freedom Rides and the 1965 Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March, and there, U.S. District Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr. issued landmark decisions. The museum gives visitors reasons to spend more time and money in a city that has a critical mass of civil rights attractions.

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