Birmingham’s Civil Rights District is now a National Monument.
Start the morning with a tour of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. The institute documents the rise of the Civil Rights Movement and the succession of events it bore around the nation: the 1955 arrest of Rosa Parks on a Montgomery bus; James Meredith’s 1962 admission to the University of Mississippi; the violence in 1963 in the streets and churches of Birmingham.
Across the street is Birmingham’s most famous civil rights landmark, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. The church and the city drew worldwide attention on September 15, 1963, when Denice McNair, 11, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson, all 14, were killed in a Ku Klux Klan bombing there. The tour includes an optional video that addresses the bombing.
Adjacent to the institute and the church is historic Kelly Ingram Park. The park served as a congregating area for demonstrations in the early 1960s, including the ones in which police dogs and fire hoses were turned on marchers by Birmingham police. Sculptures throughout the park depict the events of 1963, and a cell phone tour narrates the occurrences. At the park entrance is a newly-installed, life-size sculpture that captures the spirited nature of the young girls killed when the bomb detonated.
Birmingham’s Civil Rights District also includes the nearby Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame and Carver Theatre for the Performing Arts. The museum honors jazz greats with ties to the state of Alabama, showcasing the accomplishments of the likes of Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington and Sun Ra. Just down the street is the Eddie Kendricks Memorial Park, honoring Birmingham native and Temptations lead singer Eddie Kendrick. The Kendrick statue captures for eternity the magic moves of his Motown music.
Other suggested places of interest along the Civil Rights Tour are Miles College and Bethel Baptist Church. Opened in 1908 to provide training for African American teachers and ministers, Miles continues to offer degrees in liberal arts in a small co-educational setting. Civil Rights legend, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, was pastor of Bethel Baptist Church from 1953 to 1961. The church served as a gathering place for discussions of civil rights among blacks. In the 1950s, while Shuttlesworth was pastor, the church and the parsonage were bombed on separate occasions. Remarkably, no one was injured in the attacks.
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