By Nanci Dixon
Expand a National Parks bucket list by traveling the United States Civil Rights Trail. The past year or so has been unprecedented with regards to social and political unrest. It was a year where the lessons learned should not be forgotten, and one of the best ways to not forget is to learn more. There are more than 100 sites to visit on the Civil Rights Trail in 15 states, mainly across the South.
My husband is Black and grew up in Mississippi under Jim Crow segregation. Sometimes visiting the museums was just too much for him, and sometimes he would pause and reflect on the past versus the present. As we traveled and visited some of the sites, we did so with a heavy heart.
If you’ve never followed the Civil Rights Trail, think about doing so for an upcoming trip. There are so many beautiful, historic places to see along the way.
Here are the top 10 Civil Rights Trail destinations
National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel
Visit the site where Dr. King was assassinated while in town to support black sanitation workers’ demands for fair wages. Exhibits range from the arrest of Rosa Parks and other major events during the civil rights period to contemporary topics. It is the most-visited civil rights museum in America.
Among the many things that stood out for me, was the unaltered hotel room where Dr. King stayed, and the balcony where he stood. There is also a true-to-size-replica of a slave ship holding area with men, women and children crammed together.
Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site
This site includes Ebenezer Baptist Church and the birth home of Dr. King.
National Center for Civil and Human Rights
This multicultural center contains exhibits on both the Civil Rights Movement and modern human rights movements.
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
Take a self-guided tour of this multimedia museum that features 58,000 square feet of exhibits, archives, galleries and community rooms.
16th Street Baptist Church
16th Street Baptist Church is still an active church in the Birmingham community despite its tragic past. In 1963, the church was bombed, resulting in the death of four young Black girls. This event galvanized the federal government to take action on civil rights legislation.
Edmund Pettus Bridge/Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail
This National Historic Landmark was the site of the brutal Bloody Sunday beatings of civil rights marchers during the first march for voting rights.
Civil Rights Memorial
Visit a moving tribute to those who died in the civil rights struggle between 1954 and 1968.
Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church
The first church where Dr. King was a pastor, Dexter Avenue Church, hosted meetings to organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which the U.S. Supreme Court eventually supported.
National Museum of African American History and Culture
The latest museum of the Smithsonian Institution. It houses more than 36,000 artifacts and features exhibits dedicated entirely to the African-American experience.
Supreme Court of the United States
Visit the site of the landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which made it illegal to segregate public educational facilities.
GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA
International Civil Rights Center & Museum (Woolworth’s)
This museum commemorates the Greensboro Four and their role in launching the sit-in movement that inspired peaceful demonstrations across the country.
Mississippi Civil Rights Museum
The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, the only state-sponsored civil rights museum in the nation, and the adjoining Museum of Mississippi History, opened to celebrate the state’s bicentennial.
Medgar Evers Home Museum
Visit the home and assassination site of the first NAACP field secretary and prominent civil rights activist and organizer.
LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS
Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
This National Historic Site and still-functioning school houses a civil rights museum and offers ranger-led tours that commemorate the Little Rock Nine, who were symbols of courage in the fight against segregation.
Griggs Hall at American Baptist College
Erected in 1923, Griggs Hall preserves the legacy of Sutton E. Griggs, the first president of the college and a minister, novelist and civil rights activist.
Davidson County Courthouse
This was the site of the civil rights march that motivated Mayor Ben West to concede that segregation was immoral and that lunch counters in the city should be integrated.
RV sites are relatively easy to find near most of these major cities along the Civil Rights Trail, allowing you time to explore, go through the museums and walk around. I suggest taking your tow car or tow vehicle to visit the sites, as parking can be difficult if you do not have a very small RV.
Visit the Civil Rights Trail website to plan your trip or learn more.