Alabama partners with other Southern states to form Civil Rights Trail

Alabama partners with other Southern states to form Civil Rights Trail
The guide features an interactive map
The Alabama Tourism Department partnered with 14 other states (Source: WSFA 12 News)
The Alabama Tourism Department partnered with 14 other states (Source: WSFA 12 News)

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The Alabama Tourism Department has partnered with 14 southern states to put together the Civil Rights Trail.

The Civil Rights Trail is meant to guide families, school groups, even internationals tourist through the south and see where history happened first hand, and how what the people did in the streets of Montgomery, Birmingham, Selma and other cities in the South changed the world.

The idea for the trail came from Alabama's Tourism Director Lee Sentell.

"The more people understand about the history of our country, the more they feel like they're a part of the history," Sentell said.

One of the stops along the Trail is the Rosa Parks Museum, dedicated to keeping the memory of Rosa Parks, her arrest, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott alive. The museum is a part of Troy University's Montgomery campus. It's a hands-on, interactive place to give people of all ages an understanding of why Rosa Parks is the legend that she is, and what happened when she kept her seat.

"Ever since this museum opened, it has attracted people from all over the country, and all over the world, because people want to come to the place where Rosa Parks said enough is enough," Sentell explained. "A very quiet 42-year-old seamstress had had enough and said no. The bus driver said if you don't get up, we're going to arrest you and she said 'you may do that'. She didn't make a big deal, she just said 'you may do that' and her courage led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which the Supreme Court finally said that segregation on public transportation is unconstitutional and it affected the whole country,"

The Freedom Rides Museum, also on the tour, sits inside a former Greyhound bus stop. About five years after the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a man from Selma, Bruce Boynton, was arrested in Richmond, Virginia for sitting down in the white section of the bus station cafeteria. He was fined $10, appealed his conviction, and the Supreme Court Ruled in his favor.

"That resulted in Freedom Riders trying to ride from Washington, DC to New Orleans and test whether other bus station facilities were integrated or segregated," Sentell tells the story. "When they got to Birmingham, when they got to Montgomery, when they got to Anniston, they were beaten in all three locations."

The attacks were violent and got the attention necessary to end segregation in all interstate transportation.

"The main thing that the attacks did, other than generating a lot of media coverage, was it pulled the Kennedy administration into supporting the civil rights foot soldiers and workers," Sentell said. "The national government had not been very supportive of Martin Luther King and other activities but once this violence was shown in several places in Alabama, and they were also arrested and put in prison in Mississippi, that's when the Kennedy administration said we've got to stop this, we've got to get in front of this to stop this violence."

One of the most popular stops along the Civil Rights Trail is the Martin Luther King Memorial Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. It's the only church where Dr. King served as a senior pastor and it was in his office where many of the major movements of the Civil Rights Era were planned, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

"People find their way to the church on Dexter Avenue because they know this is where the civil rights movement started. They know that the bus boycott was the first time that a group of citizens organized and attacked the idea of segregation saying that it's unconstitutional," Sentell explained, saying visitors from all over the world are in the congregation every Sunday.

"Martin Luther King was an incredible orator, who was a great spokesperson for the civil rights movement. But all over the south, there were literally thousands of people who were foot soldiers in their own communities, who were putting their health, safety, jobs, livelihoods on the line trying to overturn segregation."

Raycom Media, the parent company of WSFA 12 News has put together a documentary trailing the journey toward civil rights for all Americans. You can watch "Trail of Hope" right now online.

Copyright 2018 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.