The Read Herring began in 2000 as the NewSouth Bookstore, a low-key sideline of NewSouth Books, one of the Southeast’s leading independent book publishing houses, occupying retail space in the building where NewSouth runs its editorial offices. Downtown Montgomery at that time was a ghost town, but by 2010 a full-scale revitalization was underway, with new lofts, shops, hotels, and restaurants bringing new energy and people to the neighborhood around our store.
That neighborhood happens to be one of the most historically significant downtowns in America. One block from our front door, Rosa Parks boarded the bus on which she would be arrested in 1955, igniting the 20th-century civil rights movement and launching the career of local minister Martin Luther King Jr. One block in the other direction, the Freedom Riders were brutally attacked in 1961. On the next street over from us, 25,000 people walked to the Alabama State Capitol on the last leg of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March for voting rights. All that civil rights activity was the result of actions a century earlier, when slavery associated with the cotton culture made Montgomery one of the wealthiest cities in the nation by the outset of the Civil War, caused of course by that same slavery, and initiated from Confederate offices just yards from our bookstore.
Civil War and civil rights — both began here, and that rich history informs the NewSouth Books publishing program as well as the inventory we have always carried in the bookstore. However, our focus remained on publishing, both because there was little downtown foot traffic until
the past few years and also because Montgomery boasted a fine independent bookstore in a nearby neighborhood. When that bookstore closed in 2016, NewSouth partners Suzanne La Rosa and Randall Williams decided it was time to expand their bookstore as a separate business under new management so Montgomery would continue to have a local option for buying books.
Brandie Johnson joined the NewSouth family in 2017 as the managing partner for the bookstore, which she quickly set about reorganizing, adding inventory, and relaunching under a clever new name — the Read Herring.
We are still located at 105 S. Court Street in downtown Montgomery in the same building shared with NewSouth Books. Our focus has not changed. We offer a highly curated selection of books, new and used, in several core categories: civil rights, African American, Native American, Civil War, slavery, Reconstruction, Southern interest, Alabama interest, Montgomery interest, and military aviation — two major USAF bases are here — as well as a wide variety of general fiction, classics, poetry, and general nonfiction. But under Brandie’s direction we have a richer selection of titles and a lot more stock. We are also more events-minded these days, with literary readings, presentations by historians, music events and more all planned for 2018 and beyond.
Come visit when you’re in Montgomery. Come visit if you live in Montgomery. Come sit on the Arlam and Johnnie Carr memorial couch in our bookstore. Mrs. Parks did.