Civil Rights Historic Sites

There are few U.S. historic eras more significant than the Civil Rights movement. The legacy of leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and others effectively changed the face of the country forever. Visits to Civil Rights sites like the ones listed below make for wonderfully educational trips but also poignant and emotionally significant trips as well. Take your students, your family and friends on a trip around to America's sites remembering the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement.

Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail - AL
The Selma March ended what is often considered the peak of the movement's violent turmoil. "Bloody Sunday" occurred when roughly 600 marchers attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus bridge leaving Selma on March 7, 1965. The marchers were attacked by civil authorities with terrible brutality. Two days later, Martin Luther King, Jr. led a second march to the bridge to show that they would not be stopped, they would not bow down to violence. A third march, this time leading from Selma to Montgomery, was begun under the court's protection. The group was 25,000 marchers strong by the time they reached the capitol in Montgomery on March 25. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed thereafter by President Johnson.

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site - Atlanta, GA
Generally considered to be the among the most important Civil Rights leaders to have ever fought for civil liberties and equality, Martin Luther King, Jr. is an indomitable force in history. A peaceful man who advocated non-violent demonstrations, Christian principles and morals, MLK, Jr. helped shape the movement from a violent era of unrest to a success. There are a few sites significant to MLK, Jr.'s legacy but it all starts in Atlanta at his birthplace. The National Historic Site under his name includes several sites including the "I Have a Dream" International World Peace Rose Garden, Fire Station No. 6 which now serves as a gift shop and exhibit on desegregation, the King Center, and Ebenezer Baptist Church where King preached from 1960 until his death.

16th Street Baptist Church - Birmingham, AL
The 16th Street Baptist Church was originally created as the First Colored Baptist Church of Birmingham in 1873, standing as the first predominantly African American church in Birmingham. After that first building was condemned in 1908, the current church was constructed and opened in 1911. Many prominent Civil Rights leaders and advocates spoke at the church during the movement including W.E.B. DuBois, Mary McLeod Bethune, and MLK, Jr. among others, as the building was used as a sort of organizational headquarters. The church was attacked several times, once by the KKK in 1963 involving 19 sticks of dynamite. The building, however, stood and was reopened after generous donations by the community and the spirit, faith, and communal power of the church lives on.

Elizabeth Harden Gilmore House - Charleston, SC
A beautiful Classical Revival house in historic Charleston, the Elizabeth Harden Gilmore Home was built in 1900 and operated as a funeral home under the direction of Elizabeth Gilmore. Gilmore was a prominent activist and Civil Rights leader in the Charleston area and was the first African American woman to become a licensed funeral director in her county. During her time Gilmore championed integration in West Virginia schools and housing and even before the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, Gilmore gathered a group of women and started the first integrated day care center. She also successfully led a peaceful sit-in at The Diamond department store, served on the Kanawha Valley Council of Human Relations, and was awarded a seat on the higher-education Board of Regents, the first African American to have done so.

National Mall - Washington, D.C.
The site of so many integral memorials, museums, and landmarks, the National Mall in the capital city is also home to two significant sites to the Civil Rights movement. The first is, of course, the steps to the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King, Jr. led his march on Washington and gave his iconic and poignant "I Have a Dream" speech. His own monument, which is artistically and emotionally moving, stands nearby as a testament to his work in the United States, as an advocate for freedom and social equality, and for his legacy in the Civil Rights movement which changed the face of American society.

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site - Washington, D.C.
In a house called Cedar Hill, overlooking the U.S. Capitol, legendary statesman Frederick Douglass took up residence with his wife from 1877 until his death in 1895. Douglass, as you may know, was the first African American man to be voted by the Senate into a highly visible federal position as marshal to Washington, D.C. Though his duties were a shadow of what a marshal was to do, Frederick Douglass worked much good during his time and gave hope to many. His autobiography is still taught in schools as it affords a personal look into the era of violent civil unrest, rampant racism, and segregation.

W.E.B. DuBois Homesite - Great Barrington, MA
Founder of the NAACP and Pan African Congress, humanist and advocate for change, W.E.B. DuBois made his voice heard over the noise of unrest. The National Historic Site here strives to create a peaceful and educational site where people can come and appreciate the legacy of DuBois, his achievements, and learn more about the history of the Civil Rights movement. From June through October, guided tours are given of the homesite and downtown Great Barrington every Saturday and Sunday.

Malcolm X House Site - Omaha, NB
Unlike Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X originally advocated violence and racial separatism. After a life changing pilgrimage to Mecca, he understood that no race is superior, that all were equal, and that hatred was the true enemy. Although his tactics were opposing the peaceful Civil Rights leaders, Malcolm X still brought change to America and to the nation of Islam. While the house on this site was demolished years ago, the North Omaha location is commemorated with a large sign indicating it as the spot where Malcolm X first lived with his family.

Other Sites Worth Visiting: 

  • Brown v. Board of Education Historic Site - Topeka, KS
  • Mount Zion Baptist Church - Albany, GA
  • Paul Robeson Home - NYC
  • Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site - Little Rock, AK
  • Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site - Washington, D.C.