For nearly one hundred years, Americans have been celebrating black history in February, at first for one week coinciding with Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’s birthdays, and later the entire month of February.
In honor of black history, all the people who have worked for equality in the United States and around the world, let’s look at some important sites from the struggle for equal rights in the United States.
Sixteenth Street Baptist Church
Birmingham Alabama was a hotbed of civic unrest in the 1950s and 1960s as black Americans in the southern United States fought against Jim Crow laws and entrenched racism. The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church had a long history of supporting African Americans and working towards equality.
On Sunday, September 15, 1963, a bomb went off in the basement of the church, killing four young girls, and injuring 22 others. It took the state nearly forty years to prosecute and convict three men for the crimes.
Edmund Pettus Bridge
As part of the nonviolent movement for equality, a large peaceful march was planned to go from Selma Alabama, to Montgomery, the capital. When marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on Sunday, March 7, 1965, armed police and others opposing equality attacked them, sending 17 people to the hospital.
The national press from what became known as “Bloody Sunday” became national news and helped galvanize the country in support of equal rights.
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, is known as the Great Emancipator because he signed the Emancipation Proclamation and led the Union in the Civil War, fought in part over the issue of slavery in the South.
The Lincoln Memorial has been a rallying point for gatherings and protests, and Martin Luther King, Jr. used the memorial as his backdrop for his now-famous “I have a dream” speech. He gave the speech at the culmination of the March on Washington, on August 28, 1963.
Rosa Parks Library and Museum
Rosa Parks is possibly the most famous female advocate of the civil rights movement. She was thrust into the spotlight in 1955 when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man, sparking a boycott of the Montgomery city bus system that lasted more than a year and resulted in the mandatory integration of the city’s transportation system.
A museum and library has been created to honor Rosa Parks and educate visitors on Parks’ life, the civil rights era in Montgomery, and the bus boycott. Anyone interested in walking in the footsteps of heroes like Rosa Parks should visit this museum.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Assassination Site
Martin Luther King, Jr. was the most influential advocate of civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s, and while he drew much praise and recognition for his work, not all of the recognition was positive. Many people resented King for his message and work, and some felt so threatened that they wanted to harm him. On April 4, 1968, King was at a motel in Memphis, Tennessee, when he was shot and murdered by James Earl Ray.
The Lorraine Motel, where he was shot, has since been turned into a memorial and museum, and is an important place for people walking the steps of the “civil rights trail”.
Little Rock Central High School
An important part of the civil rights movement was integration of public places, including schools. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court mandated that public schools be integrated, much to the frustration of many white people, especially in the South.
In 1957, Little Rock Central High School was the scene of forced integration when nine students attempted to attend the school but were faced with such threats of violence that they were unable to attend. President Eisenhower sent the national guard in to escort and protect the students for the entire school year.
Sit Ins at the Woolworth’s Lunch Counter
Sit ins, where people would sit at a lunch counter in a segregated diner and attempt to order food, were a nonviolent protest during the civil rights movement.
On February 1, 1960, four black students began what would become a months-long protest at the Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, and spark a chain of similar protests throughout the South. After months of protest, national attention, and significant revenue loss, the store quietly changed it’s policy of desegregation, a major victory for civil rights.
The building has been turned into the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, and it includes a portion of the counter where the sit in took place.
These are just a few of the places where important events in the struggle for equal rights in the United States took place. If you’re ever near any of them, take a detour and learn more about the history that shapes our culture and our country even today.