Traveling Along the U.S. Civil Rights Trail
Opened on January 1 2018, the U.S. Civil Rights Trail commemorates over 100 different locations that were pivotal to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s to 1960s. The launch date was chosen to coordinate with the birthday of Civil Rights pioneer Dr. Martin Luther King’s and the anniversary of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation which freed slaves during the U.S. Civil War. The trail spans across 14 states and Washington D.C., providing visitors an up-close look at the most important sites relevant to the Civil Rights Movement that changed the course of history.
Here are some of the highlights you will see while traveling along the U.S. Civil Rights Trail that you won’t want to miss:
Little Rock, Arkansas
Little Rock Central High School
In 1957, the Governor of Arkansas called in the National Guard in an attempt to block nine black students from entering the high school following the Supreme Court ruling of the Brown vs. Board of Education that ordered desegregation in public schools. Known as the Little Rock Nine, the students gained national attention which resulted in President Eisenhower calling in federal troops to ensure the students’ safe entry into the school. Now considered a National Historic Site, the events that took place here were a major early victory in the Civil Rights Movement.
The Emmett Till Interpretive Center
One of the most notorious legal cases of the Civil Rights Movement took place in Sumner, Mississippi. In 1955, 14 year old Emmett Till was brutally murdered after being falsely accused of talking to a white girl in a grocery store. The murder trial brought national media attention to the plight of African Americans in the south dealing with segregation, vigilante lynch mobs, and a corrupt justice system. Till’s murderers were acquitted by an all-white jury, which sparked public backlash and inspired subsequent protests in the Civil Rights Movement. The Emmett Till Interpretive Center in Sumner includes several sites key to the case and the infamous trial at the Tallahatchie County Courthouse.
Edmund Pettus Bridge
The 54 mile march from Selma to the state capital Montgomery was the first organized march for black voting rights in 1965. The now iconic Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma was where the infamous “Bloody Sunday” beatings of marching Civil Rights activists occurred, and the events were televised across the country. The highly publicized beatings prompted a massive outcry and helped to advance support for the Civil Rights Movement and equal voting rights. Following the events of Bloody Sunday, activists were granted the right to protest, and two subsequent marches took place.
Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church
The location of numerous meetings to organize the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, Dr. King also served as minister at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church from 1954-1960.
Dexter Parsonage Museum
Adjacent to the church is the Dexter Parsonage Museum, where Dr. King lived during his time as minister of the church. The parsonage was bombed several times during the 1950s, but has been restored and now serves as a museum.
Rosa Parks Museum
The site of Rosa Parks’ famous 1955 arrest for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger has been converted to a museum and features a restored Montgomery city bus and other Civil Rights era artifacts.
Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park
Included in the park are Dr. King’s birth home on Auburn Avenue and Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King was baptized and ordained as a minister. Ebenezer Baptist Church was highly influential to Dr. King’s pursuit of equality and justice for all during strictly segregated times in the south.
The King Center
Visitors can pay their respects to Dr. King who is buried here, along with his wife, Coretta Scott King. The King Center also holds the many papers and writings of Dr. King which advocated for nonviolent protest and social change and inspired the Civil Rights Movement that altered U.S. history.
Mason Temple Church of God in Christ
Here, visitors can see where Dr. King gave his famous “Mountaintop” speech the evening before his assassination.
National Civil Rights Museum
The site of Dr. King’s assassination in 1968 at the Lorraine Motel has been converted to the National Civil Rights Museum.
Greensboro, North Carolina
Woolworth’s Lunch Counter
The site of one of the best known cases of nonviolent civil disobedience that took place around the country has been converted into the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina. The original Woolworth’s lunch counter was where four black students were refused service in 1960. The students remained peacefully sitting at the counter for days, as the sit-in grew in size and popularity. Their actions inspired future nonviolent protests and sit-ins around the country during the struggle for Civil Rights.
The Lincoln Memorial is where the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom culminated and where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
Here, visitors can view the monuments depicted to honor the nation’s greatest Civil Rights leader. The “Stone of Hope” sculpture of Dr. King was hewn from the granite “Mountain of Despair” structure, symbolizing King’s extraordinary accomplishments in the face of such adversity.