10 civil rights sites you should check out

The struggle for civil rights is remembered in many places: in famous sites like the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, and in lesser-known locations too, says Vernon Burton, an emeritus history professor at Clemson University. “This is where ordinary Americans changed the laws in this country with civil disobedience. I would call these places hallowed ground.” He shares some notable, but sometimes overlooked sites with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.

Benjamin Mays Historic Site

Greenwood, South Carolina

Without Benjamin Mays, the world might never have known Martin Luther King Jr. The Baptist preacher was the president of Morehouse College in Atlanta, when King enrolled as a 15-year-old. Mays served as his mentor, and later gave the eulogy at his funeral. “He’s an unsung hero. He was the godfather of the civil rights movement,” Burton says.

More information: mayshousemuseum.org

Benjamin Mays Historic Site, Greenwood, South Carolina. This cabin was the birthplace of the Baptist preacher and Morehouse College president who discovered and mentored a young Martin Luther King Jr.

Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site

Topeka, Kansas

Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site: This memorial in Topeka, Kansas, features Monroe Elementary School, the school involved in the famous 1954 Supreme Court ruling that outlawed school segregation.

The 1954 U.S. Supreme court ruling that overturned school segregation takes its name from a lawsuit about poor conditions at this once African-American elementary school. “It’s a symbol of change in America,” Burton says. “It may be more important than any other case.” This site explores the court ruling, and delves into the clashes that followed the monumental decision.

More information: nps.gov/brvb

Southern Tenant Farmers Museum

Tyronza, Arkansas

Southern Tenant Farmers Museum: This museum in Tyronza, Arkansas, focuses on the struggle of poor black and white tenant farmers who worked together to demand fair treatment and wages from their landlords.

Civil rights battles weren’t limited to cities and at schools. In the rural south, sharecroppers and tenant farmers, who lived in appalling conditions, struggled for fair treatment and wages. This museum explores the farm labor movement. “These were poor black and white white sharecroppers who worked together,” Burton says.

More information: stfm.astate.edu

International Civil Rights Center and Museum

Greensboro North Carolina

International Civil Rights Center and Museum: Take a seat at the same lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, where four African-American college kids sat in until they were allowed to eat there, giving rise to the student movement.

Visitors can connect directly to history by taking a seat at the original lunch counter where four African-American college students refused to leave until they could order a cup of coffee and doughnut. The sit-in continued for months until the store finally relented. “It set off what we think as the student movement. They’ve done a good job of presenting it in Greensboro,” Burton says.

More information: sitinmovement.org

Mississippi Civil Rights Museum

Jackson, Mississippi

Mississippi Civil Rights Museum: The collection at this Jackson, Mississippi, museum focuses on important moments in the struggle, including the 1963 assassination of Medgar Evers, who helped overturn segregation at the University of Mississippi.

The Deep South was the front line in the struggle for equality, and this museum explores some of the most important moments, including the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till, the assassination of leader Medgar Evers, and the murder of three civil rights workers during the “Freedom Summer” of 1964. “It is one of the best of all of the civil rights museums. It will introduce you to incredible stories,” Burton says.

More information: mcrm.mdah.ms.gov

The Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center

New York

The Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center: This site in New York's Washington Heights enclave includes the Audubon Ballroom, where the leader associated with the Nation of Islam and the Black Power movement was assassinated in 1965.

Exhibits and programming at this center in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood celebrates and memorializes the rights leader who helped popularize the Black Power movement. In 1965, the Muslim minister was assassinated in the Audubon Ballroom, which now has a mural depicting his life, a statue and interactive displays.

More information:   theshabazzcenter.org

Albany Civil Rights Institute

Albany, Georgia

Albany Civil Rights Institute: This Georgia facility explores how music helped inspired activists, helping them power through protests and lifting their spirits in jail.

Music inspired protesters during the long struggle for civil rights, buoying them during confrontations and even when they were locked up in jail. Visitors can hear those songs during monthly concerts led by one of the original Freedom Singers, a local group of female performers who found international fame. “You can see and hear why music was so important,” Burton says.

More information:   albanycivilrightsinstitute.org

The Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center

Scottsboro, Alabama

The Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center: The residents of this Alabama town began this museum examines the system that led to nine black teenagers being falsely accused of raping two white women on a train. The case inspired Harper Lee's book "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Decades before the civil rights protests of the 1960s, the country was shocked by the trial of nine African-American teens falsely accused of rape. This museum, started by the local black community, explores the story. “It really put the United States on trial. It publicized the injustice and how the legal system worked in the South for African Americans,” Burton says.

More information:   facebook.com/sbmuseum

The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum


The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum: This Baltimore spot is the Madam Tussaud's of African-American history, featuring historical and contemporary figures.

This museum delves deeply into African-American history, ranging from the horrors of the slave ships traversing the Middle Passage en route to America to inspiring stories of the Underground Railroad to more recent civil rights struggles,

More information:   greatblacksinwax.org

Green McAdoo Cultural Center

Clinton, Tennessee

Green McAdoo Cultural Center: This museum in Clinton, Tennessee, tells the story of the 12 students who integrated the local high school.

After the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed school segregation, Clinton High School in Tennessee became one of the first in the South to integrate. This museum traces the struggles of the 12 students who faced mobs and threats of violence when they began to attend their new school.

More information:   greenmcadoo.org

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