This week, thousands of visitors will come to Alabama for events marking the 50th anniversary of the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement.
One could spend a lifetime studying Birmingham’s role in Civil Rights — in fact, Birmingham native and historian Barry McNeelly has done just that. The Birmingham native and Parker High School history teacher gives tours of the district.
“Birmingham’s history is so interwoven with the Civil Rights Movement,” Barry says. “Just about every place you walk in our city, there’s significance.”
But, if you’re just here for a day, here are his picks for must-visit Civil Rights landmarks in our city:
1. Birmingham Civil Rights Institute: In the heart of the Civil Rights District, the BCRI should be the first stop on any visit, providing an interactive overview of the history of Birmingham’s role in the Civil Rights Movement. Plan two hours for a self-guided tour, including artifacts like a Freedom Rider bus and the actual door from the jail where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his “Letter From A Birmingham Jail.”
2. Kelly Ingram Park: Just across the street, Kelly Ingram Park was the site of organized protests and boycotts, and in May 1963, was where Bull Connor turned fire hoses and dogs on protestors. Today the site honors Civil Rights leaders with statues and a new cell-phone accessible audio tour free to the public. On Saturday, a new statue will be unveiled memorializing the four girls killed at the 16th Street Baptist Church, 50 years ago this week.
3. 16th Street Baptist Church: On Sunday, September 15, 1963, a bomb placed by white supremacists exploded, killing Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Denise McNair, and Carole Robertson. The tragic event became a turning point in the Civil Rights struggle. On Sunday, the 50th anniversary of the bombing, the church will recreate services from that day, with a 3 p.m. community memorial service. (For tours throughout the year, call the church for an appointment.)
4. Bethel Baptist Church: Located in the Collegeville neighborhood (you will need a car to get here from the Civil Rights District), Bethel was pastored by Civil Rights leader Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and headquarters for the Alabama Christian Movement . Bombed three times, it was it was never closed. Today the red brick building been restored to the way it looked during this period, and is open to visitors.
5. Dynamite Hill: Birmingham’s East Thomas community got its moniker because of the number of homes that were bombed in the 1960s. Among those affected: Civil Rights attorney Arthur Shores and the congregation of Our Lady Queen of The Universe Catholic Church. Markers guide visitors, explaining the significance of the neighborhood.
**If you have time for one more, Barry recommends going to the second floor of Birmingham City Hall for the “Birmingham Now. Fifty Years Forward” exhibit. On display until the end of the year, it includes artifacts like radio consoles DJs used to mobilize student protesters.
For a list of other Civil Rights landmarks in Birmingham, visit 50 Years Forward.