Birmingham’s Civil Rights District
One of America's
Richest Black Heritage Tour
The statue of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth in front of
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
The last scene of the movie is of two water fountains — one for “whites” and one for “coloreds.” Dissolve to black, and as the film screen rises, two real-life water fountains have taken the place of the ones on film – one “white” and one “colored”…that’s when I realized the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (www.bcri.org) would be an emotional walk through the days of segregation.
Walking through the museum I was shocked by a sign that noted there were so many KKK bombings in this city, that it became known as “Bombingham.” There was something around every corner to make you feel like you were there. A replica of Rosa Parks sitting on the bus, a life-sized burned-out bus that was bombed by the KKK, and the claustrophobic jail cell where King wrote his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
The 16th Street Baptist Church
Alabama has one of the richest Black Heritage Tours in the country, and was the first state to develop a Black Heritage tourism brochure. Most of Birmingham’s sites are within walking distance of each other in the Civil Rights District. Across the street from the Civil Rights Institute, visitors can tour Sixteenth Street Baptist Church (www.16thstreetbaptist.org) where four little girls were killed when the church was bombed by the KKK in 1963.
Stone carving of The Kneeling Preachers
Located at Kelly Ingram Park
Across from the church is Kelly Ingram Park, where many civil rights demonstrations took place. Here is where Birmingham Police Chief, Bull Conner, unleashed attack dogs and fire hoses on about 1,000 student demonstrators, before jailing them. Take a slow walk through the park and digest the monuments to the sacrifices and triumphs of The Movement, like the bronze sculpture of a policeman and attack dog attacking a child.
Memorial of Student Civil Rights Protestors
being hosed by high pressure water guns.
Located at Kelly Ingram Park
The Civil Rights District also includes the Fourth Avenue Business District. The area was Birmingham’s Black business district during segregation. It flourished as the business, social, and cultural center for Blacks. Businesses in the area included barber and beauty shops, mortuaries, saloons, restaurants, photographic studios, motels, and theatres.
The wax figure display of
Fess Whatley, Legendary Jazz Musician and Conductor,
in the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.
Today many of the businesses have closed, but the buildings still stand. The old Carver Theatre is now home to the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame (www.jazzhall.com) where exhibits include a closer look at the jazz legends from the area, like Fess Whatley. Try to get a tour from Birmingham native and jazz great, Frank “Doc” Adams…a living legend who will add his animated version of his first-hand account of historical events. Birmingham is the perfect destination for a compact tour of Alabama’s Civil Rights history. For more information, visit www.birminghamal.org.
Photos: Courtesy Kalin Thomas
Kalin Thomas is a freelance travel & lifestyle writer based in Atlanta.
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