On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stepped out of his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis and was assassinated just outside room 306. Today, the motel houses the National Civil Rights Museum – a chronicle of the struggle of the African American community from the early days of slavery to today.
Over a decade before King's assignation, another turning point in the civil rights movement played out at Central High School in Little Rock. Nine African American students, now known as the Little Rock Nine, had enrolled in the all-white high school but were prevented from entering by the Arkansas governor until President Eisenhower stepped in. The working high school is now a national historic site.
Montgomery has several important civil rights monuments, including the site where Rosa Parks boarded her bus and the Greyhound bus station where 21 young, integrated civil rights protestors stepped off a bus to face mob violence in an effort to end segregation on interstate transport. The station now houses a museum chronicling the history of the Freedom Riders and how they used non-violence to change history.
Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, GA
The civil rights movement hand many leaders, but none quite as iconic as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His story began in Atlanta, where he grew up in the still segregated South. Today, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site lets visitors see his childhood home, visit the church where he preached and pay respects at his grave.
On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his most famous speech in front of a crowd of a quarter of a million people in front of the Lincoln Memorial at the National Mall. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial – the newest addition to this Washington, DC area – is the first memorial in the National Mall to honor a non-president and a person of color.
International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro, NC
Yet another history-changing, non-violent protest took place in Greensboro, NC at the lunch counter of the FW Woolworth building. On February 1, 1960, four African American college students took vacant seats at the "whites only" lunch counter and waited all day for coffee that never came. By the end of the week, some 400 people were participating in the sit-in. This historic building now houses the International Civil Rights Center & Museum with those four lunch counter chairs on display.
One of the bloodiest scenes in the civil rights movement took place on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. On March 7, 1965, around 500 civil rights protesters left Selma on a march to Montgomery. They only made it six blocks before local police attacked them with clubs and tear gas on what is now called Bloody Sunday. You'll also find the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma.
Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, KS
One of the most pivotal legal decisions in the civil rights movement came in 1954 when the US Supreme Court made a landmark decision in the Brown v. Board of Education case, leading to the desegregation of American public schools. Located in the former Monroe Elementary School, the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka chronicles the long fight for equal education.
Medgar Evers dedicated his life to fighting for civil liberties on behalf of the NAACP and served as the organization's first full-time field secretary in his home state of Mississippi. His family home in Jackson, now a small museum honoring his life, had no front door to allow for easier access to the carport. In the summer of 1963, Evers was gunned down in this same driveway by a white supremacist.
Malcolm X was one of the most controversial figures in the civil rights movement, and he was undeniably influential. In Omaha, Nebraska, you'll find a small monument on the site of his childhood home. The surrounding acres of land, currently owned by the Malcolm X Foundation, could one day house a museum and memorial garden as well.