The Civil Rights Movement awakened the entire nation to the realities of the injustices suffered by Black Americans. The legacy of the movement has deep roots in Alabama. Here are a few must-visit locations.
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is a great place to being (or continue) your journey to understanding the Civil Rights Movement, particularly Alabama's part in it. As an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute, the BCRI is committed to preserving Birmingham's story while also encouraging continued cultural understanding. The Institute is open Thursday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. but a virtual experience is also available. The current featured exhibit focuses on A.G. Gaston and his legacy. From humble log cabin beginnings, Gaston flourished into a successful entrepreneur and major influence in the fight for integration in Birmingham.
Little Rock Central High School
Following Brown v. Board of Education, Little Rock Central High School became the epicenter of social unrest and a glimmer of change on the horizon. In 1957, nine Black students began attending what was previously an all-white school. The students underwent incredible hardship just to get an education. They were brought to school in armored military vehicles, suffered threats on their lives, and were taunted by angry mobs. Today, guided tours of the high school are available through the National Parks Service.
Kelly Ingram Park
Right across from the 16th Street Baptist Church (another location worth visiting), there's a beautiful open space filled with art. Kelly Ingram Park is full of gorgeous sculptures depicting those involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Visit commemorative statues of Dr. Martin Luther King and Reverand Fred Shuttlesworth and three art installations by James Drake. The Civil Rights Institute offers audio-guided tours of the park with extra history and explanations of the symbolism throughout the park.
Black history is not a thing of the past in Missouri. The protests in Ferguson were only 7 years ago. Here are a few places to celebrate the triumphs of Black Americans in Missouri.
Negro League Baseball Museum
The Negro League Baseball Museum celebrates the Black contribution to America's pastime as well as baseball's role in social change throughout the country. The museum, established in 1990, is only two blocks from the Paseo YMCA where Andrew "Rube" Foster established the Negro League 70 years prior. The Negro League teams were a source of economic advancement for many Black communities across the nation. If you can't get to Kansas City to see the museum in person, the NLBM has traveling exhibits that can be rented by local museums anywhere in the U.S.
American Jazz Museum
What could be more American than apple pie and baseball? Jazz. The American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, MO is the place to celebrate the legendary Black musicians of a truly American music genre. The physical museum is currently open at a reduced capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions, but there are a wealth of virtual events available too. The virtual events in February and the beginning of March are completely free and feature artists like Bryan Alford. Check out the tribute to Ella Fitzgerald on March fifth.
Greensboro is another city inextricably tied to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. There are a number of sites to visit but here are some highlights.
F.W. Woolworth Building
In 1960, four Black college freshmen took empty seats at a whites-only lunch counter in the F.W. Woolworth Building. Ignored by the staff and taunted by the other patrons, the four men returned the next day with 19 supporters. Then the next day with 85. By the end of the week, they had nearly 400 supporters. The sit-in was emulated by others across the state. By summer, 33 North Carolina cities, including Greensboro, integrated their restaurants. Today, the lunch counter is open to the public and listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
International Civil Rights Center
Next door to the famous lunch counter, the International Civil Rights Center and Museum educates visitors about the fight for civil and human rights both in Greensboro and around the world. The museum as several exhibits dedicated to the individuals that spearheaded the Civil Rights Movement. View virtually from home or book an in-person tour on the website.