The Civil Rights Movement of the mid-20th century remains one of the most pivotal chapters in the story of America’s ongoing pursuit of justice and equality for all citizens. The trailblazing leaders and historic acts of bravery that defined this era are memorialized along the U.S. Civil Rights Trail, which includes stops at churches, schools, museums, and other landmarks memorializing events of the ’50s and ’60s.

The U.S. Civil Rights Trail invites groups to “walk in the footsteps of giants,” connecting sites across the South that memorialize and contextualize some of the turning points of modern American history. Groups can tour the sites where protestors marched, court decisions were issued, and activists shared their radical visions for a more just and inclusive society. At each stop along the trail, group travelers are invited to reflect on the Civil Rights Movement and discover how these monumental moments in America’s quest for equality reverberate across time and across the world.

The U.S. Civil Rights Trail includes several museums that provide an engaging overview of the ongoing fight for equality, liberty, and justice for all Americans. The National Center for Civil and Human Rights, located Atlanta, Georgia, connects the past to the present by exploring the enduring legacy of the Civil Rights Movement and the ongoing struggle for human rights worldwide.

Through interactive exhibits, immersive displays, and thought-provoking educational programs, the Center fosters a deeper understanding of the quest for equality and justice from the era of Jim Crow to the fight for modern global human rights. The Center offers discounts for groups of 10 or more.

Other museums across the South examine the Civil Rights Movement through a local lens, allowing groups to be immersed in the historical experiences of a specific community and set of perspectives. For example, groups can tour the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson to learn about Black trailblazers like Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers, and Vernon Dahmer, or visit Alabama’s Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to see the actual jail cell door from behind which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. penned his “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” 

Meet Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

One of the most famous leaders to emerge from the Civil Rights Movement was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a pastor with powerful oratory skills who rallied many Americans for the advancement of civil rights and social justice. Dr. King’s nonviolent approach to activism was a driving force behind many historic events, including the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where he delivered his legacy-defining “I Have a Dream” speech. The U.S. Civil Rights Trail memorializes Dr. King in several places across different states, exploring this dynamic civil rights leader’s legacy through different perspectives and significant sites in his life.

What the hotel room of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s room looked like during his stay, Memphis, Tennessee. Credit: National Civil Rights Museum
What the hotel room of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s room looked like during his stay at the Lorraine Motel, Memphis, Tennessee.
Credit: National Civil Rights Museum

The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia, is comprised of several different sites. Groups can take a guided tour of Dr. King’s Birth Home, reflect on a walk through the “I Have a Dream” World Peace Rose Garden, and pay respects at the final resting place of Dr. and Mrs. Coretta Scott King. Groups can also tour the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. This museum was built on the site where Dr. King was assassinated in 1968 and features exhibits on the global impact of slavery, the battle for desegregation in schools, the Black Power movement, and a look at the last few days of Dr. King’s extraordinary life. 

For The Love of Peace

Sit-ins and boycotts were among the many ways people peacefully protested during the Civil Rights Movement. The International Civil Rights Center & Museum is housed in the historic Woolworth’s building in Greensboro, North Carolina. The museum, built on the site where four African American college students staged their now-famous sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in 1960, offers guided group tours of its 13 permanent exhibitions on nonviolent activism during the era of the Civil Rights Movement. 

In 1955, Rosa Parks stood up for her civil rights by remaining seated on segregated bus after being asked to give up her spot for a white passenger. Troy University’s Rosa Parks Museum is located at the site of Park’s famous arrest and features a restored 1950s bus and exhibits on the roots and ramifications of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Also in Montgomery, Alabama, tour the Freedom Rides Museum to learn how activists risked their lives to force the U.S. government to enforce the Supreme Court’s decision to outlaw segregated transportation. 

In Selma, Alabama, groups might choose to visit the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where on March 7, 1965 (aka “Bloody Sunday”), protestors peacefully marched across the Alabama River to advocate for voting rights and were met with brutal attacks from law enforcement. Nearby, groups can schedule a tour of the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute, which examines this dark day’s impact on American history and the fight for suffrage.

“The Great Equalizer”

The Civil Rights Movement sought equality in all its forms—from economic justice to the enshrinement of African Americans’ voting rights. This included the fight to desegregate schools and improve access to quality education for all Americans, regardless of their skin color. This required acts of great bravery and sacrifice from African American schoolchildren and their families, and their stories are honored at several sites along the U.S. Civil Rights Trail. 

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site in Little Rock, Arkansas, commemorates the courageous actions of the “Little Rock Nine,” a group of African American students who faced incredible adversity as they sought to desegregate the school in 1957, a test of the Brown v. Board of Education decision from the U.S. Supreme Court. Today, Little Rock Central High School is a functioning high school, but groups can schedule a ranger-led tour of the facilities and its museum to learn about the Little Rock Nine and the desegregation movement. 

Other U.S. Civil Rights Trail education sites include: Clinton High School, in Clinton, Tennessee, where 12 African American students desegrated the school in 1956; New Orleans’ William Frantz Elementary School, where Ruby Bridges became the first Black student in 1960; and Fisk University, the first African American university to receive accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the alma mater of several prominent Americans, including journalist and activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett and U.S. Representative John Lewis.

Main Image: National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee. Credit: National Civil Rights Museum