One of the most pivotal cities in Civil Rights history is Birmingham, Alabama. We visited the city in the summer of 2021 and made a point to visit these important historical sites.
Birmingham was the epicenter of the Civil Rights movement and saw some of the most violent struggles in the movement’s history. It is the location of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s imprisonment in jail following protests, marches, and sit-ins against segregation in 1963, which led to one of his best-known writings, Letters from Birmingham Jail. It also was the site of horrific violence against protestors and a church bombing that killed four girls in 1963. The city has preserved the sites of these events, and it is important for all Americans to walk in the footsteps of these Civil Rights pioneers.
The Civil Rights sites in Birmingham are mostly clustered in one location and many are outside, which makes it easier to visit with children.
Start at Kelly Ingram Park, the centerpiece of the Civil Rights Trail in Birmingham. The park served as the gathering spot for the protests that occurred in Birmingham and was the site of violent reprisals against the protestors, many of whom were children. The park has been transformed into a beautiful green space with meaningful statues honoring and commemorating the Civil Rights protests.
Since it’s outside, you can visit the park at any time of the day and wander its pathways. The statues and placards are a good way to discuss the important history of the movement with your children.
The most poignant statue for me was the one of the four little girls who were killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church (just across the street). The statue shows the girls at play and is joyful while conveying the terrible history behind their deaths. It’s a fitting tribute to their legacy.
Across the street is the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, site of the horrific bombing in 1963.
This is the bombing depicted in the fantastic middle grade novel, The Watsons Go To Birmingham – 1963 (Amazon affiliate link), which I highly encourage reading before visiting. The church basement contains exhibits about the bombing, and you can take a guided tour of the building by purchasing tickets here. We weren’t there during opening hours on this trip, but seeing the outside of the church and walking its perimeter was moving.
Across the street is the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, a museum dedicated to preserving the history of the Civil Rights movement.
You can view a replica of a Freedom Riders bus and the actual jail cell door from Dr. King’s incarceration in 1963. We visited before it was open, so I hope to come back and see the exhibits!
One historic site not near these three sites is Historic Bethel Baptist Church, which served as a key gathering spot for the freedom rides. It was bombed three times during this time period.
When learning about Civil Rights history, Birmingham stands out as a key location. If you’re traveling through the city, be sure to take some time to visit these historical sites and help your children understand the legacy of the Civil Rights movement and its importance in American history.
- Cost: Outside locations are free; churches/museums range in price from $10-$15/adult
- Recommended: all ages
- Tour time: Plan to spend 30 minutes in the park; add on 1-2 hours for churches/museums
- Gift shop located at museum
- Transportation: The sites are best accessed by car. Street parking is plentiful around the park.
- Dining options: The nearest restaurant to the three clustered sites is Chick-fil-a. While in Birmingham, I recommended eating at the famous Dreamland BBQ restaurant (10 minute drive from park). So good!
- Hotel options: There are plenty of options in downtown Birmingham. We stayed just south of Birmingham at the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Mountain Brook. It was funky and cool and within walking distance of great shops and restaurants.
- Nearby attractions: McWane Science Center, Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark, Birmingham Zoo, and Railroad Park (two playgrounds)
Books to Read:
Be sure to check out my favorite recommendations for Black history books for kids and teens at my Bookshop.org shop here (this is an affiliate link).