A new tourism trail links Alabama and 13 other states from Kansas to Delaware that share a role in the nation’s march to civil rights.
Tourism officials worked together to form and promote the U.S. Civil Rights Trail, which they hope will lead to an increase in visitors wanting to retrace some of the most defining moments in American history.
“The goal is to have tourists cross state lines and visit different civil rights sites,” said Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell. “There are 14 states that have come together to promote civil rights as a group and about a fourth of all of these sites in the Civil Rights Trail are here in Alabama. Alabama is known as the centerpiece of civil rights in America because so much happened here in Selma and Montgomery and Birmingham and even in some smaller towns.”
An estimated 13 million visitors will tour civil rights museums and sites in 2018, spending $1.62 billion on tickets, transportation, meals, lodging and souvenirs, according to the U.S. Civil Rights Trail.
The trail includes iconic sites across the country, such as the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which houses original jail bars from the cell where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
In all, the trail unites 130 landmarks, museums, churches and courthouses that played a role in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s. Sentell said individual states and their tourism departments had promoted civil rights history before, but there was no joint effort until now.
Local tourism officials across the state say the trail provides excellent nationwide exposure, and they hope to capitalize on its recent publicity and attract more visitors.
“It’s a big boost for us because we would have never have had the funding to get this kind of attention and interest they are creating,” said Sheryl Smedley, executive director of the Selma and Dallas County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism. “I commend the state tourism department for supporting and helping launch this.”
The trail was announced on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and is being promoted with the motto, “What happened here changed the world.”
The trail includes sites in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, as well as Washington, D.C.
There are 29 stops in Alabama, including 10 in Montgomery, seven in Selma, four in Birmingham and four in Tuskegee. Anniston, Monroeville, Scottsboro and Tuscaloosa each have one site.
The Alabama sites are:
- Anniston: Freedom Riders National Monument
- Birmingham: Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Bethel Baptist Church, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and Kelly Ingram Park
- Monroeville: Old Courthouse Museum
- Montgomery: Alabama State Capitol, City of St. Jude, Civil Rights Memorial Center, Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, Dexter Parsonage Museum, First Baptist Church on Ripley Street, Frank M. Johnson Jr. Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, Freedom Rides Museum, Holt Street Baptist Church and Rosa Parks Museum
- Scottsboro: The Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center
- Selma: Brown Chapel AME Church, Edmund Pettus Bridge, Lowndes Interpretive Center, National Voting Rights Museum and Institute, Selma Interpretive Center, Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail and the Sullivan and Richie Jean Sherrod Jackson Foundation and Museum
- Tuscaloosa: Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama
- Tuskegee: Butler Chapel AME Zion Church, Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, Tuskegee History Center and Tuskegee University
Information about all the sites on the trail can be found online at civilrightstrail.com. The website also includes videos, an interactive map and historical photos.