10 Essential Civil Rights Sites to Visit in the United States | Historical Landmarks | History Hit

10 Essential Civil Rights Sites to Visit in the United States

A hugely important movement within the United States' recent history, the Civil Rights Movement is commemorated through the large number of sites which relate to it. Here's our pick of 10 of the best.

The Civil Rights Movement took place in the 1950s and 1960s in America. It was a struggle for social justice for black Americans in their fight for equal rights in the eyes of the law. Though the Civil War had put an end to slavery, racism and discrimination faced by African Americans and black people in the country remained severe, which incentivised groups to mobilise and unify to fight for equality.

From the National Civil Rights Museum and the King Centre – where Martin Luther King Jr himself is buried – to the historically significant Bethel Baptist Church, the sites linked to the Civil Rights Movement in America are important and worthwhile places to explore. We’ve chosen 10 of the most poignant Civil Rights Movement sites across the United States.


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1. National Civil Rights Museum

The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel is the site of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. It has in the last several years been turned into the National Civil Rights Museum. Across the street from the motel is the building and room in which James Earl Ray fired the fatal gunshots. This also forms part of the museum.

As well as examining the events that led to the assassination and the investigation that followed, the National Civil Rights Museum hosts a number of exhibitions chronicling key episodes of the US civil rights movement and its legacy.

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2. Martin Luther King Jr National Site

The Martin Luther King Jr National Site in Atlanta, Georgia, is dedicated to commemorating the life of the leader of the African-American civil rights movement and chronicling his campaign for racial equality.

Visitors to the Martin Luther King Jr Historic Site can visit Dr and Mr’s King’s crypt at the King Centre, view his birthplace, and view exhibitions and films about Dr King’s life and the civil rights movement. There are also exhibits about Gandhi, who inspired Dr King, and Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her seat on a bus was an iconic and pivotal moment during the movement. Most of the tour is self guided, except for those who visit Dr King’s birthplace, which is led by a ranger.

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3. The King Centre

The King Centre in Atlanta, Georgia, commemorates Martin Luther King Jr, a Baptist minister and the leader of the African-American civil rights movement.

Dr King was assassinated on 4 April 1968 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. His joint crypt with his wife is located at the King Centre. Visitors to the King Centre, which is part of the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site, can embark on a self guided tour to see his final resting place as well as viewing exhibits about Dr King.

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Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Jet Lowe, Photographer

4. Bethel Baptist Church

The site of Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, played a crucial role in the fledgling American Civil Rights movement. From 1956 until 1961, Bethel Baptist Church was the headquarters of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights which strove to achieve equal rights through non-violent means and fought against policies of segregation. As well as serving as the headquarters for this group, the Bethel Baptist Church was a key site during the 1961 Freedom Ride. The church building was also attacked three times by extremists, in 1956, 1958, and 1962.

Today the Bethel Baptist Church is home to a small museum with information about the Civil Rights movement.

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5. African American Museum - Philadelphia

The African American Museum in Philadelphia explores the history and heritage of African Americans. This includes collections which explore culture, literature, art, and politics.

The main collections at the African American Museum in Philadelphia relate to the history of Philadelphian African Americans in the twentieth century, from exhibits about the city’s chapter of the Black Panthers to sports paraphernalia.

Dan and Keisha Blain discuss how African American women played a central – albeit overlooked – role in leading the struggle for equality during the Civil Rights Movement, and what their legacy looks like today.

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Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / TonyTheTiger at English Wikipedia.

6. DuSable Museum of African American History

The DuSable Museum of African American History is a museum in Chicago which explores the history and culture of African Americans.

Its exhibits include several murals, paintings, and sculptures which represent prominent African Americans, and an exhibit which examines the history of African Americans in the armed forces. The DuSable Museum also offers an insight into the civil rights movement from 1848 to 1968.

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7. Harriet Tubman House

Harriet Tubman is famous as an abolitionist, humanitarian, armed scout, and spy for the US Army during the American Civil War. She was one of the key orchestrators of the ‘underground railroad’, which helped enslaved people travel from the south to the north of the USA, thus ensuring their freedom.

Today, her 26-acre home in Albany, New York, is open to the public, with the mission of sharing Tubman’s core values with visitors during a guided tour of the property.

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8. Museum of African American History and Culture - Washington D.C.

The Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. is a Smithsonian Institution museum located on the National Mall. It was established in December 2003 and opened its permanent home in September 2016 with a ceremony led by former president Barack Obama.

The museum has more than 40,000 objects, and is the largest educational centre for African American History in the world. Particularly significant items include Louis Armstrong’s trumpet, and collars from slave ships.


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9. McLeod Plantation

The McLeod Plantation in Charleston, South Carolina, was established in 1851. The plantation was used to grow sea island cotton, with enslaved people being used as agricultural workers.

The plantation has been meticulously preserved. Tours focus on the lives of the enslaved people, rather than the oppressor family, and there is information about the plantation’s importance during the Civil War and contemporary local Gullah culture.

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10. International Civil Rights Center & Museum

The International Civil Rights Center and Museum is located in Greensboro, North Carolina. It is housed in what was once a Woolworths and the site of a non-violent protest as part of the civil rights movement. Four students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T) started the Greensboro sit-ins at a ‘whites only’ lunch counter in 1960, which then grew in number, and inspired other movements across the country.

It is now an archive, museum, and learning facility with a focus on civil and human rights.

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