Now, more than ever before, Americans are paying attention to the struggle. You know the struggle; we were at ground zero of it in the ‘60s, when Reverend Shuttlesworth and Dr. King walked our streets and languished in our jails, when so many fought so hard for that which should have been theirs to begin with.
Most people don’t realize the extent of the battleground over which the fight for civil rights was fought. Visit this site devoted to the United States Civil Rights Trail and have a look at the interactive map. You’ll note that sites significant to this part of our nation’s history extend from Wilmington to Topeka to Baton Rouge to Charleston. You could spend a month of vacation and not see half of it.
But, if you only have a few days, your best bet is to set up camp in Birmingham and radiate throughout Alabama from there. You’ll be able to see most of the major sites and enjoy several days of good food and drink to boot.
Here’s an idea of what your itinerary might look like:
Stop #1: Birmingham
Civil Rights Institute
In the heart of the Civil Rights District, the BCRI should be the first stop on any visit, providing an interactive overview of the history of Birmingham’s role in the Civil Rights Movement. Plan to spend anywhere from a couple of hours to half a day.
Kelly Ingram Park
Kelly Ingram Park was the site of organized protests and boycotts, and in May, 1963, was where Bull Connor turned fire hoses and dogs on protestors. Today, the site honors Civil Rights leaders with statues and a new cell-phone accessible audio tour free to the public. If it’s a beautiful day, you’ll want to spend an hour or so here, for sure. If you work up an appetite, a 3-block walk to Z’s Restaurant is a nice way to complete the experience with authentic soul food made just the way you like it.
16th Street Baptist Church
On Sunday, September 15, 1963, a bomb placed by white supremacists next to a staircase on the eastern side of this lovely church exploded, killing Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Denise McNair, and Carole Robertson. The event became a catalyzing turning point in the civil rights struggle.
Bethel Baptist Church
Bethel was pastored by Civil Rights leader Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and headquarters for the Alabama Christian Movement.
Birmingham’s East Thomas community got its moniker because of the number of homes that were bombed in the 1960s. Among those affected: Civil Rights attorney Arthur Shores and the congregation of Our Lady Queen of The Universe Catholic Church.
After a long day exploring the Birmingham Civil Rights Scene, consider a night on the town. You might, for example, swing over to the Pizitz Food Hall, where you can enjoy excellent cocktails and interesting eats from a number of restaurants ranging from Ethiopian to Asian fusion to a good old hamburger.
Stop #2: Montgomery, AL
Drive: 1h 27m
King Memorial Baptist Church
From his office in the lower part of this church, Dr. King directed much of Montgomery’s early civil rights activity (notably, the 1956 Bus Boycott). Since then, King Memorial Church has served the community by allowing civic, educational and religious groups to use its facilities.
Freedom Rides Museum
When 21 Freedom Riders stepped off a bus on May 20, 1961, many of them expected to die. They had prepared wills and were steeled against the possibility of conflict. This museum celebrates the bravery of these young people who traveled the South in the early ‘60s as part of the army of souls who fought in the civil rights movement.
Stop #3: Selma, AL
Drive: 1h 46m
The Edmund Pettus Bridge
The site of the march that became known as Bloody Sunday, the bridge is a must-see for anyone interested in our civil rights history. Here, on March 7, 1965, peaceful voting rights marchers clashed with law enforcement personnel – an event that would become a galvanizing and seminal event in the struggle for civil rights.
The National Voting Rights Museum & Institute
Located at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, you will find an excellent resource in the National Voting Rights Museum & Institute (NVRMI). As a museum it provides a number of materials and artifacts chronicling the struggle for equal voting rights in America with a particular emphasis on materials that highlight the experiences that served as catalysts for Bloody Sunday. As an institute, NVRMI saves as a steward of and repository for records and manuscripts of enduring value.
The Lowndes Interpretive Center
This highly visual installation, located about halfway between Selma and Montgomery, is dedicated to the lives of the brave folks who undertook the peaceful march from Selma to Montgomery in their quest for the right to vote. Plan on about 50 minutes of additional travel time in addition to the time you spend here.
Brown Chapel AME Church
The starting point of the Selma-to-Montgomery marches, Brown Chapel AME Church was the home of the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1965, and, of course, played a central role in the happenings around Bloody Sunday.
After another day on the road, might we recommend a burger? Here are a few places that can offer you an excellent one: Jack Brown’s, Chez Fon Fon, Mooyah, Flip Burger Boutique, Fancy’s on Fifth, or either of Birmingham’s two fast-food favorite sons, Milo’s or Jack’s.