Today is a holiday in the United States – Martin Luther King Day, which celebrates the life and legacy of the great civil rights leader, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and was assassinated in 1968. It’s a good time to explore some of the historic sites that were key to King’s life, to this country’s civil rights movement, and to African American history. I just published an article suggesting just that and offering seven notable destinations, including the following.
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site – Atlanta, Georgia
There are multiple important sites located within walking distance of each other in the Sweet Auburn district of Atlanta where King was born and raised. The King Center has an exhibition hall with mementos from Dr. King’s life, as well as videos of his speeches and sermons. It is next to the Freedom Plaza where King’s tomb is situated amidst a reflecting pool. Also within the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site are King’s birth home and the Ebeneezer Baptist Church, where King and his father were pastors.
Alabama Civil Rights Trail – Montgomery, Selma, and Birmingham, Alabama
Alabama was the epicenter of numerous civil rights battles of the 1950s and these historic events are memorialized in the state today. In Montgomery, you can tour the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where King was a preacher; the Dexter Parsonage Museum, where King and his family lived; the Rosa Parks Library and Museum, which pays tribute to the woman who sparked a year-long city bus boycott; and the Civil Rights Memorial, designed by the architect Maya Lin, that honors those who gave their life to the civil rights struggle.
Just west of Montgomery is Selma. Between the two cities, you can follow the Selma-to-Montgomery National Historic Trail, which commemorates the 1965 Voting Rights March, and stop at the Edmund Pettis Bridge, where 500 marchers were attacked by state police.
Birmingham, meanwhile, is home to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, a museum that re-creates the world of racial segregation and the civil rights clashes. It is across the street from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where four young girls were killed during a 1963 bombing by the Ku Klux Klan.
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center – Cincinnati, Ohio
The Underground Railroad was a 19th century network of private homes and churches where fleeing slaves were hidden as they tried to make their way north to a free state. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center uses exhibits and interactive endeavors to detail the history of slavery and tell the story of the Underground Railroad and of the individuals who worked to overturn slave laws.
See the full story for four more sites, in Massachusetts, Tennessee, Kansas and Arkansas.