Thomas Jefferson's stirring words, written in 1776 in our Declaration of Independence, defined the promise of America--freedom and equality for all. The words rang hollow, however, for the millions of African Americans held in slavery prior to the Civil War, and later denied political, economic, educational, and social equality by unjust laws and social customs. This National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary tells the powerful story of how and where the centuries-long struggle of African Americans to achieve the bright promise of America culminated in the mid-20th century in a heroic campaign we call the modern civil rights movement. Many of the places where these seminal events occurred, the churches, schools, homes, and neighborhoods, are listed in the National Register of Historic Places and are included in this itinerary.
Throughout history, African Americans resisted their slavery and later
second-class citizenship. Opposition took many forms, from the passive
resistance of slaves who performed poor work for their masters, to slave
revolts, to slaves escaping to freedom on the Underground
Railroad, to African Americans' participation in the Abolitionist
movement and their joining the Union army during the Civil War. During
this trying period African Americans preserved their heritage and social
Following the Civil War this country moved to extend equality to African
Americans with the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution
(1865) which outlawed slavery, the 14th Amendment (1868) which made
citizens of all persons born in this country and afforded equal protection
of the laws to all citizens, and the 15th Amendment (1870) which provided
the right to vote to all citizens, regardless of race (In 1920, the
19th Amendment was ratified giving women the right to vote). This promising
start soon faltered during the tensions of Reconstruction (1865-1877)
when federal armies occupied the South and enforced order.
Exhausted by the efforts and divisions of the Civil War and Reconstruction and the longing for the country to reunite, the white advocates of equality were overcome by the forces of reaction, and the fate of African Americans was turned over to the individual states. Many states adopted restrictive laws which enforced segregation of the races and the second-class status of African Americans. The courts, the police, and groups such as the Ku Klux Klan all enforced these discriminatory practices.
African Americans responded in a variety of ways. Booker T. Washington (1856-1915), the early 20th century's leading advocate of black education, stressed industrial schooling for African Americans and gradual social adjustment rather than political and civil rights. The charismatic reformer Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) called for racial separatism and a "Back-to-Africa" colonization program. But it was a different path, one that emphasized that African Americans were in this country to stay and would fight for their freedom and political equality, that led to the modern civil rights movement and is the focus of this National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary.
In visiting the 49 places listed in the National Register for their
association with the modern civil rights movement, as well as the Selma-to-Montgomery
March route--a Department of Transportation designated "All-American
Road" and a National Park Service designated National
Historic Trail--two things will be apparent. First, although they
had white supporters and sympathizers, the modern civil rights movement
was designed, led, organized, and manned by African Americans, who placed
themselves and their families on the front lines in the struggle for
freedom. Their heroism was brought home to every American through newspaper,
and later, television reports as their peaceful marches and demonstrations
were violently attacked by law enforcement officers armed with batons,
bullwhips, fire hoses, police dogs, and mass arrests. The second characteristic
of the movement is that it was not monolithic, led by one or two men.
Rather it was a dispersed, grass-roots campaign that attacked segregation
in many different places using many different tactics. On this itinerary
you will learn about the people and places associated with one of the
most important chapters in our history.
The properties included in the itinerary are related to the modern
civil rights movement, that is, with a few exceptions, the events of
the post-World War II period, and especially the 1950s and 1960s. The
focus of the itinerary is the African American freedom struggle, and
does not include the attempts of other minority groups, such as Asians,
Hispanics, or Native Americans, to obtain equality. The list of properties
included in the itinerary does not represent all of the sites important
in the civil rights movement; a number of these places have yet to be
recognized by National Register listing. The 49 properties have been
nominated by the States and listed in the National Register over the
years, and do not represent a systematic effort to survey, identify,
and list all important civil rights sites in the National Register.Visitors
may be interested in Historic
Hotels of America, a program of the National Trust for Historic
Preservation, located near the places featured in this itinerary, including
Tavern Hall of Berea College.
This travel itinerary was prepared as a cooperative project between the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, and the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. Both agencies have formally recognized the historic significance of the Selma-to-Montgomery march of 1965. Congress has designated, and the National Park Service administers, the Selma-to-Montgomery National Historic Trail based on the route's national significance in American history. The Federal Highway Administration has designated the march route as an All-American Road.