Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.– Martin Luther King Jr.
The legacy of the Civil Rights Movement is found throughout the Southern states, now documented on the official US Civil Rights Trail. There are both museums and experiences where you can learn about the movement and landmarks where important events happened. This post will be updated as additional venues open.
Four hours south takes us to the most notable sites of the Civil Rights Movement. Birmingham, Alabama was home to the tragic bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church, which killed three four young girls, as well as boycotts against separate eating facilities and the writing of King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.”
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute was created to document the city’s importance in the movement. It also hosts special events and exhibitions. Also, look out for the historical markers that note civil rights marches and other events around the city.
Montgomery and Selma
Nearby Montgomery, an hour and a half further, was the starting point of the bus boycotts when Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the city bus. Her story is told at the Rosa Parks Museum. The Freedom Rides Museum, set in a former Greyhound station, tells of this part of the movement while the National Memorial for Peace and Justice honors those who were victims of lynching.
Montgomery is also home to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Civil Rights Memorial, which is dedicated to those who died in the struggle for equal rights for all. It was created by Maya Lin, who also designed the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC. The Dexter Parsonage is one of King’s residences that was bombed.
Selma is another important place to visit, especially the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Atlanta, Georgia is where Martin Luther King, Jr. was born and where much of his work was done. In the Sweet Auburn neighborhood, you will find the National Park Service’s Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, which has exhibits on his life and the civil rights movement. The center houses the wagon that carried his coffin and was pulled by donkeys through the streets of Atlanta during his funeral.
The NPS also runs tours of the adjacent Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King and his father both preached and is still a functioning church. You can take tours through the sanctuary, which looks very much as it did when the Kings were members.
Down Auburn Avenue lies the Martin Luther King Jr. Birth Home, which guests can also tour, but you must reserve a spot at the King Center. Tickets are free. Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change holds the crypts of both King and his wife Coretta Scott King (see above). The center has a few outdated exhibits upstairs, with King’s Grammy for Best Spoken Word Performance (who knew?) and artifacts from Gandhi and Rosa Parks. The nearby Sweet Auburn Curb Market is also worth exploring.
The National Center For Civil and Human Rights opened in 2014 as a tribute to both the civil rights movement fostered by King and his contemporaries as well as the human rights issues continuing today in the LGBT, women’s, immigrant and handicapped communities all over the world. They also host speakers on topics related to human rights.
In South Georgia, the Albany Civil Rights Institute shares the legacy of the small town’s civil rights history. Here King spoke at two different churches as it was here that blacks and whites were segregated and where girls were kept in what was known as the Leesburg Stockade. The march here led to the one in Birmingham. Be sure to take your time walking through the museum but don’t take photos. Seeing the Freedom Singers at Old Mount Zion Baptist Church, where Dr. King spoke, is another important addition to your visit as they perform regularly.
In the small town of Dublin, a high school student that won a contest gave his first public speech. That man was Martin Luther King Jr. and that event is recognized at Martin Luther King, Jr. Monument Park through sculptures and a mural by Georgia artist Corey Barksdale. Nearby First African Baptist Church was the site of King’s 1944 speech and is the oldest African American church in the city, founded in 1867.
Perhaps the most intensive museum on the Civil Rights Movement, the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson covers history from slavery to the modern day. The stories are told through the lens of the state, in particular, especially the lynchings and violence against the African American community in the state. Jackson is also home to the Medgar Evers Home Museum where the NAACP field secretary was tragically assassinated.
In Memphis, Tennessee, you can see where Martin Luther King Jr.’s life was tragically cut short by assassin James Earl Ray‘s bullet. King’s room at the Lorraine Motel has a wreath hanging on the door and the hotel has now been transformed into the National Civil Rights Museum. The large museum has interactive exhibits on the movement and the Sanitation Worker’s Strike that brought King to Memphis. Across the street in a former boarding house are exhibits about the search for Ray and the subsequent trial.
The National Mall in Washington DC was the site of King’s famous I Have A Dream speech, the view from the Lincoln Memorial lets you see the capitol from King’s perspective.
This post was originally written for Caroline in the City but has been republished with permission. All photos remain the property of the author.