Civil Rights Monuments Every American Should Visit
Racial segregation and discrimination were legal in the United States before the civil rights movement. Massive campaigns and protests in the 1950s and '60s demanded radical change.
Many participants died for the Civil Rights Act, which was signed in 1964. Some of them were famous figures, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but many others were regular people lost in the stream of history.
To commemorate these heroes, civil rights monuments, memorials and museums were constructed. These monuments serve as a reminder of those past struggles and the long way the country has yet to go.
Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument
Location: Birmingham, Alabama
Opened: Jan. 12, 2017
Birmingham was one of the centers for civil rights activities and their brutal opposition. This memorial commemorates the people, which included children, who participated in Project C, a massive organized campaign to protest the city's segregation laws and abuses toward Black people.
The monument includes several sculptures and sites like the A.G. Gaston Motel, where protesters sought refuge and movement leaders congregated to plan protests.
One of the most harrowing parts of the memorial is the sculpture pictured above, which forces the visitor to walk between two tall blocks with terrifying police dogs, creating a feeling reminiscent of what protesters felt.
The Virginia Civil Rights Memorial
Location: Richmond, Virginia
Opened: July 2008
Brown v. Board of Education effectively ended the "separate but equal" approach that public schools had used to justify segregation. The case was built on five separate cases, one of which was the result of a student-led protest in Farmville, Virginia.
The memorial depicts students and parents standing tall as they demand equality in education. They are led by Barbara Rose Johns, who led the protests in her high school when she was just 16 years old.
February One Monument
Location: Greensboro, North Carolina
Opened: Feb. 1, 2002
Sit-ins were one of the most famous acts of protest during the civil rights movement. The first occurred on Feb. 1, 1960, in Greensboro, where four North Carolina A&T University students decided to do the unthinkable: sit at a lunch counter.
They walked into the F.W. Woolworth store and refused to leave. The lunch counter didn't admit Black people at the time, so their actions were dangerous and seen as radical. But they also inspired similar protests around the country.
Today, you'll find a monument in honor of David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr. and Joseph McNeil. You can also visit the nearby building where the store used to be. It is now the International Civil Rights Center & Museum. The original lunch counter has been preserved for visitors who want to learn more about this act and the movement.
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
Location: Washington, D.C.
Opened: Aug. 22, 2011
Perhaps the most famous civil rights monument, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial stands in the Tidal Basin near D.C.'s National Mall. It is near where Dr. King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech during the 1963 March on Washington.
Rising up 30 feet, the statue is imposing. Dr. King's figure stands firmly with his arms crossed in front of two granite stones, which symbolize the "mountain of despair" and "stone of hope" that he referenced in his speech.
Civil Rights Memorial
Location: Montgomery, Alabama
From 1954 to 1968, 40 civil rights activists were killed in Montgomery, Alabama. This beautiful memorial commemorates them, with each name engraved in a dark granite stone that a stream of moving water covers.
The simple yet powerful work preserves the memory of people who are usually left out of history books, but who contributed greatly to the movement.
Testament: The Little Rock Nine Monument
Location: Little Rock, Arkansas
Opened: Aug. 30, 2005
After the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, the nation turned its eyes to Little Rock Central High School. Nine Black students enrolled and showed up to class, even after the Arkansas governor, Orval Faubus, publicly stated he would block them from the school.
The Arkansas National Guard showed up to intimidate the teenagers, and President Dwight Eisenhower sent federal troops to maintain order and peace as news outlets covered the affair. There was a national outcry following the school's mistreatment of students who merely wanted to attend school.
Now, the Arkansas State Capitol has a monument dedicated to the Little Rock Nine, who are depicted as hesitant but determined, just as they were in September 1957, when they stood up for integration and against white supremacy. You can also visit the high school, which is still in operation.
Freedom Riders National Monument
Location: Anniston, Alabama
Opened: Jan. 12, 2017
Rosa Parks and fellow activists began to sit in the front of buses in direct defiance to Jim Crow laws that forced Black people to sit at the back. Their efforts led to the desegregation of buses in 1960 — by law, but not in practice.
In 1961, Freedom Riders from all over the country arrived in Southern states to support the desegregation by riding in buses. On Mother's Day, a bus filled with activists arrived in Anniston, Alabama, and was met by violent white supremacists who burned the buses and brutally beat the passengers. Those taken to the hospital were attacked again.
To commemorate this day, President Barack Obama established a monument at the site — which includes the mural depicted above at the former Greyhound station, the place where the buses were burned — and the hospital.
Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home
Location: Jackson, Mississippi
Established: Dec. 5, 200
In 1963, Medgar Evers, the field secretary of the NAACP was brutally murdered in front of his Mississippi home. Historians believe that his assassination helped spur the Civil Rights Act, as it garnered national attention.
His home is now a National Historic Place and is part of the U.S. Civil Rights Trail. Though it is not currently open to visitors, that is set to change in the future.
Center for Civil and Human Rights
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Opened: June 23, 2014
Atlanta is the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. and has various sites on the Civil Rights Trail, including Dr. King's childhood home.
The city also has the heartwrenching Center for Civil and Human Rights. The museum details the monstrous life conditions Black citizens faced in the Jim Crow era, as well as the movement's fight for justice.
Wings and temporary exhibitions are also dedicated to global human rights movements of the past and present.
Harry T. & Harriette V. Moore Memorial Park & Museum
Location: Mims, Florida
Opened: April 9, 2004
A small town on Florida's Space Coast, Mims is home to the Harry T. & Harriette V. Moore Memorial Park & Museum. The museum was built in honor of the activist couple that opened the first chapter of the NAACP in the state, then died from a terrorist bombing in their home on Christmas Day in 1951.
Though not as well-known as other civil rights leaders, the Moores investigated lynchings, advocated for equal pay for educators regardless of race, fought against police brutality and more. They continued their work despite numerous threats from the Ku Klux Klan. After their death, the NAACP had an uptick of membership enrollment from people inspired to join the cause after hearing about the brutal murder.
Visitors to the museum will learn about the Moores and the movement's history.