HomeCultureStories Along the National Civil Rights Trail, Part Two

Stories Along the National Civil Rights Trail, Part Two

For the first time in United States history, a national trail has been assembled that connects the various cities across the South that strongly influenced the Civil Rights Movement.

The battle for equal rights raged for centuries, reaching its prominence in the 1950s and 1960s, stretching predominantly across the South, though reaching as far north as the country’s capitol. The newly mapped Civil Rights Trail follows African Americans’ sit-ins, their peaceful protests for integration, the cases they brought to the Supreme Court and the violent resistance that failed to stop them. The Civil Rights Trail website allows you to interactively explore—as well as plan your visit to—the locations most significant to the Civil Rights Movement.

continued from Stories Along the National Civil Rights Trail, Part One

West Virginia

CharlestonElizabeth Harden Gilmore led efforts to integrate schools, housing and public accommodations throughout West Virginia. In the early 1950s, Gilmore formed a women’s club that opened the first integrated daycare center in Charleston, and she later secured the admission of black Girl Scouts into the previously all-white Camp Anne Bailey. In 1958, she co-founded the local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality and led department store sit-ins for more than a year, prompting the integration of Charleston lunch counters. She worked her way toward acquiring a seat on the higher education Board of Regents, where she served from 1969 to the late 1970s for one term as vice president and one as president. Gilmore’s two-and-a-half-story Classical Revival home is a historic place that is not open to the public, but plans are underway to restore the building to preserve Gilmore’s legacy.

Harpers FerryHarpers Ferry National Historical Park is a scenic location home to John Brown’s Fort, where John Brown murdered pro-slavery proponents in the Bleeding Kansas conflict ahead of the Civil War. Other sites include the Lockwood House, where wounded Union soldiers were treated; Loudoun Heights—the second tallest mountain that overlooks Harpers Ferry—where Confederate Col. “Stonewall” Jackson ordered three infantry blockhouses be built, the remnants of which are still visible today; Maryland Heights, located across the Potomac River, where the first battle occurred between the Union and the Confederacy; and the Point, which offers a panoramic view of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers.

Huntington. Memphis Tennessee Garrison was an ambitious teacher who used her house as a meeting site for African Americans to discuss racial barriers and how they might be overcome. She educated the mining community and brought explorers, plays and music to the town. She was the first female president of the West Virginia State Teachers Association and in 1931, she was elected vice president of the American Teachers Association. She additionally served as vice president of the NAACP board of directors in the 1960s. The Garrison House is owned by the Carter G. Woodson Memorial Foundation Inc., which plans to renovate the home into a civil rights and black history museum.

Virginia

Farmville. Two young students—Barbara Johns and John Arthur Stokes—rallied a group of students to organize a walkout of the all-black Robert Russa Moton High School to protest the facility’s conditions. The school was appraised to fit 180 students, but more than 450 were crammed into the tight space. The structure of the building was compromised so that, when it rained, students needed to use umbrellas while indoors to remain dry from the leaking roof. The NAACP worked alongside the students to argue for integration of schools within the county by filing a lawsuit that was later incorporated into Brown v. Board of Education. The state resisted by kickstarting an anti-integration campaign called Massive Resistance, spearheaded by the county school board’s refusal to fund any school that planned on integrating. As a result, the county had no public schools between 1959 and 1964. In 1964, Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County finally reached the Supreme Court, where it was ordered that public schools reopen, fully integrated. The former Moton High School is currently a museum that features a permanent exhibit called “The Moton School Story: Children of Courage.” It also contains school memorabilia, Civil Rights Movement features and oral histories. Docent-guided tours are also available.

Richmond. The Virginia State Capitol Building is home to a statue of Barbara Johns, who led the walkouts at Moton High School.

North Carolina

Durham. Booker T. Washington once stated that the businesses lining Parrish Street comprised the “Black Wall Street.” Durham was the origin place of the Durham blues, the first African American female Episcopal priest, and the first black-owned insurance company. Additionally, the Hayti Heritage Center is located in Durham. This building was once the St. Joseph’s AME Church, but it has since been refurbished to preserve African American heritage.

Greensboro. On February 1, 1960, four African Americans from the Agricultural & Technical College of North Carolina were refused service at Woolworth’s department store. They remained seated at the counter until the store closed. For three days participation grew, until on February 4, more than 300 students were taking part in the sit-in. The protest began encompassing nearby businesses and lasted well into July. Only July 25, 1960, the Woolworth store manager, Charles Harris, decided to integrate the store due a reported loss of nearly $200,000 as a result of the protesting. The seats and counter remain inside the original building, which has been included in the International Civil Rights Center & Museum. Guided tours of the museum are available.

Raleigh. In April 1960, at Shaw University, Ella Baker created the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Baker was a confidante of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a role she used to help set up the first SNCC meeting. Today, Estey Hall stands as the first building constructed for the higher education of African American women in the United States. It is the oldest building on campus at Shaw University.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Gardens was the first public park devoted to Dr. King. The garden is home to a life-sized sculpture of Dr. King, as well as a 12-ton granite water monument that honors civil rights leaders from the area. The Memorial Gardens are open from sunrise to sunset and have no admission fee.

South Carolina

Charleston. While many may think the battle for civil rights has ended, the tragedy that took place at the Emanuel AME Church speaks differently. The Emanuel AME Church has a storied history based on the fact that it is the oldest African Methodist Episcopal church in the South, and it was the first independent black denomination in the country. White officials raided the church multiple times in the 19th century—in 1818 (where 140 were arrested), in 1820 and again in 1821. In 1822, the church was burned down; 35 local men were executed, including the church founder Denmark Vesey, based in their involvement with a slave revolt plot. The church was rebuilt after the Civil War, with the current structure dating back to 1891. Much more recently, on June 17, 2015, a 21-year-old white supremacist opened fire on churchgoers, massacring nine in attendance. On June 17, 2017, Emanuel AME announced the construction of a memorial honoring the victims.

Columbia. Modjeska Monteith Simkins was the matriarch of South Carolina’s Civil Rights Movement. She resided in a one-story cottage from 1932 until her passing in 1992. Her home served as both a meeting place and lodging for civil rights leaders. Scheduled group visits and meetings are accommodatable, but tours are not yet available.

In March of 1961, several hundred protestors marched on the South Carolina State House, where the legislature was in session. The State House is also a monument that incorporates rubbing stones from four countries where Africans were captured and enslaved.

Greenville. The Springfield Baptist Church was founded by newly freed slaves in 1867. It is the oldest historically black Baptist church in Greenville, where it is still active today. Springfield Baptist Church served as a headquarters for nonviolent protests in the 1960s. Its most pivotal historical moment occurred on January 1, 1960, when a march originated at the church destined for the Greenville Downtown Airport. This particularly protest was organized after Jackie Robinson—the first black MLB player and keynote speaker for an NAACP convention—was denied use of the airport’s waiting room.

Greenwood. The Benjamin E. Mays House Museum was the former home of Mays, a preacher, educator, scholar, author and civil rights activist, often referred to as the “Father of the Civil Rights Movement.” His most notable student was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The museum is open for public tours.

Orangeburg. In 1960, students organized a sit-in at the S.H. Kress & Co. department store, where black and white patrons were not allowed to dine together at the lunch counter. After the sit-in, students continued to boycott segregated businesses in Orangeburg, leading to a march of 1,000 students that turned violent. Over the years, tension continued to rise, leading to a violent outbreak on February 8, 1968, later known as the Orangeburg Massacre. The South Carolina Highway Patrol fired guns into a crowd of 200 protestors on the South Carolina State University campus, where three students were killed and 27 others injured. While the officers were charged with using excessive force, they were all acquitted, despite testimony that none of the students were acting aggressively, nor were they armed. Academic buildings where the massacre occurred still function today. The campus is marked with statues of the three African American students who lost their lives in the shooting.

Rock Hill. On February 12, 1960, black students from the Friendship Junior College were denied service at McCrory’s Five & Dine, though they refused to leave. Almost a year later, on January 31, 1961, 10 students from the college were arrested for the same reason. Nine of those students did not pay their bail and became the first sit-in protestors to serve jail time. This sparked the “Jail, No Bail” strategy that was soon adopted by the Freedom Riders.

St. Helena Island. The Penn Center—originally called the Penn School—was established in 1862, half a year prior to the Emancipation Proclamation. The school aimed to teach freed slaves to read in hopes of helping them transition toward a stable lifestyle. The Penn Center adopted Booker T. Washington’s model of industrial training by the 1900s, and the facility was often used as a meeting place for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The district is home to 50 buildings, including the York W. Bailey Museum, which is open Monday through Saturday.

Summerton. In 1951, South Carolina passed its first statewide sales tax, and the state used the revenue to improve African American schools. The Liberty Hill AME Church was the meeting ground for 19 individuals who banned together in the 1952 Briggs v. Elliott suit, which was one of the five that combined to reach the Supreme Court as Brown v. Board of Education.

Georgia

Albany. In November of 1961, activists from the local Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the NAACP and other organizations formed the Albany Movement, which was joined shortly thereafter by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The Albany Civil Rights Institute is a museum and research center that includes the Old Mount Zion Baptist Church, which was home to the Albany Movement. The institute includes exhibits, interactive displays, an oral history database and a resource library.

Atlanta. The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park is comprised of Dr. King’s childhood home, the Ebenezer Baptist Church and the King Center. The home where Dr. King was born and lived for the first 12 years of his life is open for free tours daily (except major holidays). The Ebenezer Baptist Church is a still-active ministry where Dr. King was baptized, ordained and served as co-pastor alongside his father until 1968. The King Center is run by his children—predominantly Martin Luther King III—and houses Dr. King’s papers. It is also the burial site of Dr. King and his wife, Coretta Scott King.

The Center for Civil and Human Rights is a multicultural center with exhibits highlighting the Civil Rights Movement and the modern human rights movement. Exhibits include Sports and Change, Morehouse College and Dr. King.

Midway. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) hosted education and leadership workshops at the Dorchester Academy Boy’s Dormitory, part of an abandoned missionary school for post-Civil War freed slaves. The site also served as the organizational location for the SCLC’s campaign to desegregate Birmingham. The former dormitory is included in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of Most Endangered Places, but in recent years, efforts have led to the revitalization of parts of the building. The dormitory and an on-site museum are currently open to the public.

Alabama

Anniston. In 1960, the Supreme Court ruled in Boynton v. Virginia that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional. Therefore, on May 14, 1961, seven members of the Congress of Racial Equality boarded an interstate Greyhound bus in Atlanta. They would come to be known as Freedom Riders. When they arrived in Anniston, the bus was met by an angry mob that vandalized the bus. The police stepped in, allowing the bus to continue toward Birmingham, but the mob followed and set the bus on fire in an effort to trap the passengers inside. Again, officers attempted to help, but segregationists attacked the passengers upon exiting the bus. Today, the Freedom Riders are remembered at the site of the Greyhound bus burning, as well as the Greyhound station, which are both part of the National Park Service.

BirminghamBethel Baptist Church was headquarters for the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, which rose to prominence under Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth. Segregationists targeted the church on three separate occasions. On Christmas Day, 1956, a bomb destroyed the parsonage; on June 29, 1958, civil rights guards removed a bomb from the church before it could explode; and on December 14, 1962, a third bomb was detonated. When a new sanctuary opened in 1955, the original church was preserved as a monument. The parsonage and the James Revis house (named for a deacon in the church during Shuttlesworth’s pastorate) across the street are national landmarks.

The 16th Street Baptist Church was originally called the First Colored Baptist Church of Birmingham upon its completion in 1873 and remained a mainstay in the black community long after its name change, hosting visitors such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Mary McLeod Bethune. The church served as a meeting location for black activists and citizens, and it was frequented by Shuttlesworth and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On September 15, 1963, two Klansmen planted 19 sticks of dynamite outside the church’s basement. The detonation killed four young African American girls and injured 22 others. The church was repaired and reopened by June 7, 1964. It still operates today.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) is a museum where tourists can experience a version of segregated 1950s Birmingham, examine a replica Freedom Riders bus and see the jail door behind which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. penned his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” The museum houses an expansive collection of documents that were written in relation to the Civil Rights Movement, in addition to nearly 500 audio recordings. The BCRI also funds traveling exhibitions and hosts celebrations of holidays, such as Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black History Month.

Kelly Ingram Park is a public park that contains sculptures depicting the civil rights struggles in Birmingham.

Monroeville. Author Harper Lee was born and raised in Monroeville, a town that inspired her to write To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee’s father was a state legislator and county lawyer who defended two black men accused of murdering a white storekeeper. This very case helped to shape Lee’s novel. The Old Courthouse Museum is a popular destination of readers. The building was restored to its 1930s condition and stands as a realistic representation of the Maycomb Courthouse.

MontgomeryOn May 20, 1961, a bus of Freedom Riders arrived in Montgomery, having set out from Birmingham. They were greeted on South Court Street by a mob of white separationists armed with baseball bats and iron pipes, which they used to assault the riders before black residents of Montgomery could rescue them. This bus station is currently the Freedom Rides Museum, and parts of the facility have been restored to their 1961 appearance.

The following day, on May 21, 1961, more than 1,500 people gathered at the First Baptist Church on Ripley Street, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders spoke in defense of the Freedom Riders. A mob of 3,000 separationists gathered outside the church and attacked the guests. The present marshals and police officers did little to intervene, which prompted President John F. Kennedy to send the Alabama National Guard in to protect the Freedom Riders and their supporters.

The Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church is in the same condition it was when Dr. King served as its pastor between 1954 and 1960. This church was the location where the Montgomery Bus Boycott was organized.

The National Memorial for Peace is a park-like memorial to honor the black victims of 4,400 lynchings in 800 U.S. counties from 1877 through 1950. The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration focuses on the continued effects of discrimination against America’s black population.

ScottsboroIn 1931, nine young African American men between the ages of 13 and 21 were arrested and falsely accused of raping two white women on a train. Multiple trials with all-white juries found each man guilty. Afterward, one of the accusers—Ruby Bates—confessed that she and Victoria Price had been coerced into falsely testifying. The case reached the Supreme Court in 1937, where charges were dropped against five of the men, while the other four received harsh sentences up to the death penalty. In spite of this, within 20 years, all four accused defendants had been freed from prison. The Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center stands as a memorial commemorating the turmoil the Scottsboro Nine faced. It stands in the former Joyce Chapel United Methodist Church near the tracks of the Scottsboro train.

Selma. Selma was the starting point of three separate marches in support of African American voting rights, which were significant to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a law signed by Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson that prohibited racial discrimination in voting. The 54-mile route was once a highway that has since been transformed into a historic trail dotted with markers that indicate significant points in civil rights history.

The fight for voting rights began in the 1950s and 1960s, but it came to a head on October 7, 1963. James Forman and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organized more than 300 African Americans to march on voting registration offices in Selma, where they waited all day for only a few to be permitted to fill out applications, all of which were denied by white officials. Another SNCC Chairman and current Georgia Congressman John Lewis led 50 black citizens to a courthouse on July 6, 1964, again with the intention of registering to vote. Every participant was arrested and denied applications. Three days later, Judge James Hare made it illegal for two or more people to gather in Selma to sponsor voting and civil rights. On January 2, 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at Brown Chapel AME Church to encourage protests and voting drives to restart. The arrest of Dr. King on February 1 drew attention to the activity in Selma, which was supported several days later by Pres. Johnson. In the following weeks, local activist Jimmie Lee Jackson was beaten and shot by police officers and a state trooper; he died eight days later. This was the catalyst for the Selma marches.

Bloody Sunday—the first of the marches—occurred on March 7, 1965. John Lewis and Rev. Hosea Williams, alongside roughly 600 protestors, followed U.S. Hwy. 80, where they were met by state troopers and armed citizens. The marchers were charged and assaulted by officers on horseback, leading to several protestors falling unconscious, 50 being wounded and 17 being hospitalized. Due to the visibility of Bloody Sunday created through its televising, Federal Judge Frank M. Johnson Jr. overruled a law that allowed segregationists to stop the marches.

The second march, Turnaround Tuesday, took place on March 9, 1965. Dr. King led 2,500 protestors to the Edmond Pettus Bridge and turned around without entering the unincorporated area of the county. Three Unitarian Universalist ministers attempted to join the march but were brutally beaten by four Klansmen. One of them, Rev. James Reeb, died from his injuries on March 11. Again, Pres. Johnson responded, this time demanding that Congress pass legislation. As a result, the Voting Rights Bill was introduced on March 17.

The final march occurred on March 21, 1965, when Dr. King led 8,000 marchers of all races. They arrived on March 24, and by March 25, 25,000 protestors gathered at the steps of the Alabama State Capitol Building, where Dr. King delivered his “How Long, Not Long” speech. Within the next year, 11,000 African Americans had successfully registered to vote in Selma, and five black citizens had run for office in Dallas County.

Tuscaloosa. George C. Wallace, governor of Alabama, promised not to desegregate the University of Alabama in his campaign. True to his word, on June 11, 1963, he stood in the doorway of Foster Auditorium to physically block two African American students from entering the building and enrolling. President Kennedy intervened by calling the Alabama National Guard to protect and escort the students into the school. Foster Auditorium is now a national historic landmark that is still in use at the university.

Tuskegee. The hangars of Moton Field were home to an “experiment” to determine whether African-Americans—both men and women—could be trained as combat pilots, bombardiers, navigators, dispatchers and technicians. The Tuskegee Airmen ultimately formed the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Air Corps in World War II, where they served as the first African American aviators in United States history. The hangers have since been rehabilitated to house related artifacts and is free to the public.

Lewis Adams was a former slave and successful tradesman who envisioned an educational institution for blacks. His dream became reality when legislation allowed for the creation of the Negro Normal School in Tuskegee, later known as Tuskegee University.

The Tuskegee History Center is a memorial for the victims and survivors of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study that recognizes not only African Americans that were involved, but also Native and European Americans.

While each individual city has been detailed here, the Civil Rights Trail website provides more in-depth information for each stop along the path, along with links to external websites. An interactive map with city markers is available for user interplay here.

The Civil Rights Trail project is ongoing, and six major sites in Florida and Alabama were just added. We will keep updating parts one and two of the trail as new sites and information become available.

All photos courtesy of United States Civil Rights Trail.

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