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A Guide to Touring Alabama's Civil Rights Trail

Standing on Dexter Avenue in Montgomery, Alabama, you can feel moments in history collide. Look one way, and you’ll see the Court Square Fountain. Built in 1885, it sits on a site that once held a market where enslaved people where bought and sold. Turn your head the other way and you’ll see the state capitol building, constructed in 1851, where one of the seminal moments of the civil rights movement occurred in 1965. It was on the capitol steps where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. ended the Selma to Montgomery march, an event that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

March 25 marks the 57th year since that momentous occasion, and it is commemorated by the U.S. Civil Rights Trail, which traces sites across 15 states that were significant to the movement. Alabama is well represented on the trail, with a large concentration of sites in the central part of the state, making it an easy three-day, weekend road trip from Atlanta. The journey from Birmingham to Selma, Montgomery and Tuskegee serves as a reminder that the fight for racial equity is far from over.

Multiple resources are available to help plan your trip, including Lee Sentell’s visually arresting book, “The Official United States Civil Rights Trail: What Happened Here Changed the World” (Alabama Media Group, $19.95) and its companion website www.civilrightstrail.com.

One thing is clear: There’s no better time than Black History Month to visit Alabama, so use this suggested itinerary to begin your exploration of the places where history was made.

Friday: Birmingham

A straight shot west on I-20, Birmingham is an easy two-hour drive from Atlanta, plus you gain an hour entering the Central Time Zone. Plan to arrive in the Magic City by lunch time. Put away your cell phone (a house rule) and join the steady stream of customers queueing up at Niki’s West, adjacent to the Finley Avenue Farmers Market. At this Southern-meets-Greek, family-run cafeteria, you’re just as likely to rub shoulders with local farmers as city leaders and business power brokers. Menu items not to be missed include baked Greek chicken, fried catfish, all the vegetables, yeast rolls — you get the idea.

After lunch, take a 10-minute drive downtown to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. This modern museum illustrates key moments in the movement and demonstrates what life was like before, during and after segregation in this industrial Southern city. Highlights include a replica of the Freedom Riders bus and the door to the jail cell where King penned his powerful “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Take a self-guided tour or call ahead and reserve a docent tour.

Read entire article at Atlanta Journal-Constitution