Top six cities for Dr. Martin Luther King history

No other name is so closely linked to the Civil Rights movement. A Civil Rights traveler can visit the most important Civil Rights sites just by touring the cities where Dr. King lived and made history.

Birmingham, Alabama

Statues in Kelly Ingram Park vividly bring the city's protests to life.
Statues in Kelly Ingram Park vividly bring the city’s protests to life.

When Dr. Martin Luther King pastored in Montgomery, Alabama, he was a frequent visitor to Birmingham, and came to know the city’s racial strife — and its African-American leaders.

It would be hard to understate the city’s role in Civil Rights history, which makes it a key stop for any Civil Rights traveler. The city, once known for police-dog attacks and murder, is now a leader in preserving the history of the Civil Rights era. Today visitors find a sophisticated city that looks forward while helping visitors explore its rocky, racial history.

Dr. King’s letter from Birmingham Jail — an eloquent plea for non-violent protest — has been called the most important document of the civil rights era. It was scribbled on the margins of a newspaper after his arrest during 1963’s Birmingham Campaign that would eventually end segregation in the South. Dr. King’s actual jail cell is displayed at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.


  • Start your visit with a visceral trip to the past in Kelly Ingram Park, where statues of attack dogs snarl at tourists as they once menaced non-violent protesters, including women and children. Even nearly 50 years after the 1963 marches, which Dr. King help organize, a visitor recoils at the assault, and can only imagine the horror protesters faced. Statues of Dr. King and other ministers are also shown.
  • The moving and extensive Birmingham Civil Rights Institute includes a burned Greyhound Bus, a tribute to the Freedom Riders who were attacked in Birmingham during the historic 1961 protest to desegregate interstate transportation through the South. Riders were beaten in Anniston, Alabama, about 60 miles to the east. When protesters arrived in Birmingham on Mother’s Day, they were brutalized as well.
  • Birmingham’s most notorious site is the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, located across the street from the park and Civil Rights Institute. Klansmen placed ten sticks of dynamite by the building, in 1963, showering stained glass on worshippers and killing four girls attending Sunday school. The church, which served as a staging area for the 1963 marches, is open for tours by appointment. A memorial area remembers the victims, and a wall clock is forever stopped at 10:22, the time of the explosion. Dr. King spoke at the funeral for three of the girls.

Next King site.

Guidebook

Birmingham travel info: Information on the six-block Civil Rights District here


Alabama state travel info

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Hotels

The Tutwiler – Hampton Inn & Suites Birmingham-Downtown Don’t be fooled by the chain affiliation, this is a Birmingham institution, refurbished and updated for guests. Don’t miss the free chocolate chip cookies at night. 2021 Park Place North, Birmingham, 205/332-2100. TripAdvisor average rate: $166

Aloft Birmingham Soho Square  Technically located “over the mountain” in Homewood,  This trendy chain offers basic, but stylish amenities. 1903 29th Avenue South, Homewood205/874-8055. TripAdvisor average rate: $157

Dining

One of the hottest dining cities in the South, Birmingham offers an array of innovative restaurants.

Chez Fonfon

Celebrity chef Frank Stitts’ take on a Parisian Bistro. The mussels and frites are heavenly. 2007 11th Avenue South, Birmingham, 205/939-3221.

Niki’s West

A bustling Southern cafeteria with dozens of freshly prepared vegetables, and don’t think of skipping dessert. 233 Finley Avenue West, Birmingham, 205/252-5751.