Revisit civil rights-era sites around the South

Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionMay 11, 2013 

Key events in 1963, from organized protests in Alabama to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, galvanized the civil rights movement that eventually toppled Jim Crow laws in the South. The 50th anniversary of those events is a great time to visit sites pivotal to the end of Southern segregation and that reflect on key events in African-American history.

Birmingham, Ala.

Founded in 1871, Birmingham grew so rapidly from a small town to a booming manufacturing center, it adopted the nickname “The Magic City.” It boasts a metro population of 1 million-plus and an economy that focuses on medical research, banking and the service industry. With hundreds of restaurants and a multitude of theaters, museums and sports activities, it’s an entertaining and educational getaway. Referred to by many as the “Cradle of the Civil Rights Movement,” it is home to the 16th Street Baptist Church, which is recognized as one of the key sites in the struggle for African-American Civil Rights. birminghamal.org

16th Street Baptist Church: Constructed at its current location in 1911, the 16th Street Baptist Church was founded in 1873 as The First Colored Baptist Church of Birmingham. It is significant as a rallying point for civil rights leaders like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and the bombing that occurred there on Sept. 15, 1963, which killed four young girls. Designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2006, it continues to hold services and offer tours for visitors. 1530 6th Ave. N. 205-251-9402 or 16thstreetbaptist.org

Where to stay:

•  Cobb Lane Bed & Breakfast: Replete with crystal chandeliers, fine china and legendary southern hospitality, this beautifully decorated Victorian-style bed and breakfast is near Birmingham’s Historic Five Points area, the downtown financial district and the University of Alabama-Birmingham. 1309 19th St. S. 205-918-9090 or cobblanebandb.com

Where to dine:

•  Highlands Bar and Grill: Cited as one of the best restaurants in America by the James Beard Association, Opinionated Dining, tripadvisor.com and others, Highlands Bar and Grill has attracted fans of fine dining for French-inspired American cuisine since 1982. 2011 11th Ave S. 205-939-1400 or highlandsbarandgrill.com.

Montgomery, Ala.

The capital of Alabama was officially incorporated in 1819. Once the capital of the Confederate States of America, in later years the city would serve as a backdrop for several advances in the civil rights movement, among them the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Selma-to-Montgomery marches. Be sure to visit to the Rosa Parks Museum. visitingmontgomery.com

Rosa Parks Library & Museum: The museum is on the campus of Troy University at the corner of Montgomery and Moulton where Rosa Parks was arrested in 1955. Its 7,000 square feet include interactive multimedia, as well as a replica of a 1950s-era Montgomery city bus that highlights Park’s experience. 252 Montgomery St. 334-241-8615 or trojan.troy.edu/community/rosa-parks-museum/.

Where to stay:

•  Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa: This four-star hotel includes fine dining, a fitness and recreation center and a total of 345 rooms – 50 of those are considered “premium” in case you’re in the mood to live extra large. 201 Tallapoosa St. 334-481-5000 or marriott.com.

Where to dine:

•  Michael’s Table: This eclectic blend of soul and comfort food with a modern twist from Chef Michael Hochalter is open for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. It’s captured numerous accolades for menu and ambiance, including a Top Fine Dining Experience nod from Alabama Magazine. 2960-A Zelda Place. 334-272-2500 or michaelstable.net.

Greensboro

Much of the center city’s early-20th-century architecture remains intact, and there are multiple dining establishments and entertainment venues throughout the area. For a look at significant civil rights history, the International Civil Rights Center & Museum is a visit not to be missed. visitgreensboronc.com

International Civil Rights Center & Museum: The museum was originally a storefront for F.W. Woolworth Co. It was also the site of the Greensboro lunch-counter sit-in of Feb. 1, 1960, when four students, in an act of nonviolent civil protest, requested to be served like white patrons. The building remains intact, and the lunch counter is exactly as it was more than 50 years ago. It’s an emotionally moving step back in time. 134 S. Elm St., 336-274-9199 or sitinmovement.org.

Where to stay:

•  The Biltmore Greensboro Hotel: Built in 1903, over the years the building served as office space, apartments and then, finally, a hotel. Restored in classic detail in the 1990s, the Biltmore Greensboro came under new management as of 2007. It is the only historic boutique hotel in center city Greensboro. 111 W. Washington St. 336-272-2474 or thebiltmoregreensboro.com.

Where to dine:

•  Liberty Oak Restaurant & Bar: Upscale dining and a full bar for lunch, brunch and dinner. The menu includes soups, appetizers, rainbow trout, beef tenderloin and vegetarian selections. 100 W. Washington St. 336-273-7057 or libertyoakrestaurant.com.

Memphis, Tenn.

Perhaps known best for its mix of blues, barbecue and Elvis Presley, Memphis is also the site of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. On April 4, 1968, the iconic civil rights leader was slain on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. memphistravel.com

National Civil Rights Museum: The former Lorraine Motel has since been converted into the National Civil Rights Museum. With building additions and restoration to the motel, the site houses multiple permanent interactive exhibits and takes visitors on a tour through the room Dr. King stayed in at the time of his death. Ongoing updates to the facility are currently prohibiting full tours of the Lorraine; however, a special balcony tour to the scene where Dr. King once stood will be available until work is completed in the first quarter of 2014. 450 Mulberry St. 901-521-9699 or civilrightsmuseum.org.

Where to stay:

•  The Peabody Hotel: This sumptuous hotel was built in 1869 and is known around the globe for its daily march of mallard ducks to and from the hotel’s fountain. With 464 guest rooms and 11 stories, the Peabody also offers pet-friendly rooms and such modern amenities as a day spa, art galleries and more. 149 Union Ave. 901-529-4000 or peabodymemphis.com.

Where to dine:

•  Chez Philippe: If you’re staying at the Peabody, don’t miss the classical French cuisine of Executive Chef Andreas Kisler. Dinner and afternoon tea are available Wednesday through Saturday. 149 Union Ave. 901-529-4188 or peabodymemphis.com.

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