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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Travel: Historical civil rights sites

Jan 27, 2023 11:06AM ● By Victor Block

As the Civil War drew to a close, soldiers of the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiments occupied a plantation on James Island, South Carolina, which earlier had been held by Confederate forces. They were among the approximately 185,000 U.S. Colored Troops, as they were called, who fought with the North.

Visitors may relive that chapter of history and the story of African slaves who lived and toiled at McLeod Plantation Historic Site. This is one of numerous sites around the country which recount pages from the fight for freedom and equality that has been waged by segments of our population. 


McLeod Plantation
(Charleston, SC)

The McLeod Plantation was established in 1851 near Charleston on the riches of sea island cotton. It is a living tribute to the men and women and their descendants that persevered in their efforts to achieve freedom, equality and justice. McLeod Plantation offers guided tours about African American life from slavery to freedom, with walks of the main house and a fully intact row of slave cabins, a cotton ginning house and sweeping oak tree alley. 

16th Street Baptist Church
(Birmingham, AL)

Churches played a major role in the Black civil rights movement. Some serve as reminders of tragedies and victories in the struggle for

At the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, a clock is frozen at 10:22. That was the time in the morning on September 15, 1963 when a bomb exploded, killing four Black girls between 11 and 14 years old who were attending Sunday school. The church was targeted by members of the Ku Klux Klan because it was a place where civil rights activists met and trained. The first colored Baptist church in the city, it continues to house an active congregation and is open for $10 tours.

Central High School
(Little Rock, AR)

Probably the most infamous school that captured headlines related to the civil rights movement is Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools are unconstitutional and that children may not be denied admission because of their race. When nine African-American students sought to enroll in all-White Central High three years later, they were blocked. 

It took an order by President Dwight Eisenhower, who directed the Arkansas National Guard to escort the youngsters into the building, to end the impasse. Central High remains a functioning school which, according to its motto, seeks to help “all students feel valued and respected…in a diverse and changing world.” 

Admission to Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site Visitor Center is free. National Park Service ranger-guided tours are also free but must be reserved in advance to guarantee availability.

Museums & Monuments

Other places provide introductions to the civil rights movement, including the National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, DC. It is the largest in the world devoted to its topic.

The focus of permanent collections in this Smithsonian museum ranges from activism and the American West to religious groups and segregation. Exhibits like Louis Armstrong’s trumpet paint a positive picture, while iron collars from slave ships and a rope used in a lynching are not for the faint of heart. 

The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson houses interactive galleries that demonstrate “the systematic oppression of Black Mississippians and their fight for equality.” They also recall the brave responses of those who challenged racism.

Medgar Evers Home Museum in the same city honors the civil rights leader who in 1963 was assassinated in the driveway of his house. He was returning home from a meeting carrying T-shirts that read “Jim Crow Must Go.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., is memorialized by buildings, highways and other monuments around the country that bear his name. The most poignant reminder is the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was fatally shot on April 4, 1968 while standing on the balcony. The building now is part of the National Civil Rights Museum, which traces the history of human rights from the 17th century to the present. 

The fight for equality in the United States isn’t restricted to African Americans. A Native American civil rights movement that was born in the 1960s led to the occupation of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, a site of the former prison. The demonstrators maintained control there for 19 months, claiming it was compensation for the U.S. government’s violation of numerous treaties. They offered to pay for it with beads and trinkets. 

Two places associated with the fight for Latino/Hispanic rights are the National Chávez Center and César E. Chávez National Monument in Keene, California. They recall the legacy of labor activist Cesar Chavez who is remembered for fighting for the rights of migrant farm workers. 

Chávez’s is most known for spearheading a strike of grape pickers in 1965. The protest lasted five years and led to boycotts that ultimately resulted in an agreement that provided benefits to the workers. His many accomplishments are recalled where Chavez is buried near the former headquarters of the United Farm Workers of America. 

When you visit any of these monuments to the civil rights movement, remember that they are much more than brick and mortar. Each tells a story of hardship and sacrifice, along with victory over hate and prejudice by those who fought, and sometimes died, for their cause. 

Plan Your Visit 

McLeod Plantation Historic Site

Charleston, South Carolina • 843-762-9514.

16th Street Baptist Church 

Birmingham, Alabama• 205-251-9402.

Central High School

Little Rock, Arkansas • 501-374-1957

National Museum of African American History & Culture 

Washington, DC • 844-750-3012

Mississippi Civil Rights Museum

Jackson, Mississippi• 601-576-6800

Medgar Evers Home Museum 

Jackson, Mississippi • 601-345-7211

Lorraine Motel 

Memphis, Tennessee • 901-521-9699

Alcatraz Island

San Francisco, California • 415-561-4900

Chávez Center & César E. Chávez
National Monument

Keene, California• 661-823-6134

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