The state of Alabama is home to a number of sites—including five that are managed by the U.S. National Park Service—that help tell the story of steady, but sometimes slow, progress on civil rights and equality issues for Blacks.
“The NPS sites are located right in the areas where the historical events took place,” says Rosemary Judkins, sales manager for the state DMO, Sweet Home Alabama. “These sites offer an opportunity for us to walk in the footsteps of people whose courage changed the world.”
One of the well-known attractions is the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, which details the series of famous marches, led by activists such as Martin Luther King Jr., that took place in February and March of 1965. The first two marches included violent confrontations with law enforcement officials, with the earlier one being dubbed Bloody Sunday.
The third was a three-day walk from Selma to Montgomery during which federal marshals and the Alabama National Guard were brought in to protect the marchers. This historic journey was seen as a turning point toward the 1965 passage of the Voting Rights Act that granted protections for African Americans.
Along the 54-mile trail between the cities, there are interpretive centers and significant sites, including the Edmund Pettus Bridge and the Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in Selma.
“The guides don’t just take people on a cookie-cutter tour, but they provide them with a firsthand perspective of what it was really like,” says Judkins. “It is very meaningful and powerful for visitors to hear the stories from people who actually experienced these important events. We know this can be a very transforming experience.”
The state added two more NPS-managed sites in January 2017, when the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument and the Freedom Riders National Monument were established by outgoing President Barack Obama.
The new monument in Birmingham sheds light on the gruesome incident in 1963, when protesters were attacked by police dogs and sprayed with water from powerful hoses. Travelers can see the A.G. Gaston Motel, where activist leaders took up residence in April and May to direct efforts such as Project C, which was the issue that sparked the 1963 confrontation.
The Freedom Riders National Monument in Anniston recalls the incident two years earlier, when activists that opposed discriminatory laws requiring separation of the races in interstate travel were attacked on a bus by segregationists. A typical visit includes seeing the Bus Burning Site and the Greyhound Bus Station.
Located 40 miles west of Montgomery, the town of Tuskegee is home to the Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site and the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site. These attractions recall an earlier chapter in Alabama’s Black history—the time between 1881, when the university was founded, and World War II, when the first group of black airmen gained acclaim for their aviation expertise. The Airmen Historic Site includes vintage planes, such as the famous P-51 Mustang.
Judkins adds: “We are proud that Alabama is the place that can give visitors these types of authentic experiences.”
Top photo: The Lowdnes County Interpretive Center is located along the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail.
Photo by: CC Flickr/Ron Cogswell: bit.ly/3czbm8g