13/02/2015 07:46 GMT | Updated 14/04/2015 06:59 BST

Selma and Other Civil Rights Sites


David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jnr in Selma

(Photo © Paramount Pictures)

It's about 50 miles from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama, and it's 50 years this year since civil rights supporters made that walk three times. The release of the movie Selma tells the story of those walks, with David Oyelowo as civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jnr. King was first drawn into the civil rights movement - rather reluctantly - ten years earlier when he was a pastor in Montgomery. There, on December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man, and was arrested. The resulting year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott was a pivotal episode in the advancement of civil rights in the USA. Both anniversaries will show how trouble spots can eventually become tourist spots, and draw visitors to see those places where powerful events happened and history was made.

The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma (Photo © Art Meripol)


The first march in Selma took place on March 7, 1965. Organisers in Selma arranged the walk to draw attention to their demands for voting rights for black citizens, and their destination was the state capital in Montgomery. The walk had barely started, however, when the marchers were attacked by police and state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The unarmed marchers were greeted with tear gas and beaten with clubs on the day that became known as 'Bloody Sunday'.

The bridge now stands as a landmark in civil rights history. Adjacent to the bridge, in Selma's historic district, is the National Voting Rights Museum. The Martin Luther King Jr. Street Historic Walking Tour shows visitors the city's 20 memorials commemorating Selma's involvement in the fight for voting rights.


Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery (Photo © Stephen Poff)


When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus on December 1, 1955, she set in motion the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The city's black citizens refused to travel by bus, and instead made their way to work on foot, or using car pools. The boycott resulted in serious financial problems for the city's transit system, and lasted until December 20, 1956, when segregated buses were declared unconstitutional.

Today by the spot where Rosa Parks was taken from the bus and arrested stands the Rosa Parks Library and Museum. This tells the powerfully moving story of Mrs Parks and her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. The story tells how an unknown preacher named Martin Luther King Jnr also came to participate in the bus boycott, with some apprehension: his home was later bombed and his family's lives were endangered.

Other Civil Rights sites in the city include the Civil Rights Memorial and Memorial Center, the Freedom Rides Museum, the Dexter Parsonage Museum in Dr Martin Luther King Jnr's former home, and the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where King was preaching during the bus boycott.


The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis

(Photo © www.AmonFocus.com 2012, Courtesy of Memphis CVB)


No trip to the South would be complete without a visit to Memphis, and the one spot where all the stories come together: The National Civil Rights Museum. The stunning museum incorporates the Lorraine Motel and the balcony on which Dr Martin Luther King Jnr was killed on April 4, 1968. The very ordinariness of this cheap motel room and the contrast with what happened there brings many visitors to tears. The complex also includes the building from which the fatal shot was fired. It may be the spot where King died, but his inspiration lives on... and, as recent events in the USA have shown, it needs to.


The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis

(Photo © www.AmonFocus.com 2012, Courtesy of Memphis CVB)


For more information on places with significant Civil Rights connections, see We Shall Overcome, a list of historic places connected with the Civil Rights Movement.


The North America Travel Service has a fly-drive holiday which takes in Montgomery and also Birmingham and Atlanta, both of which have several significant civil rights sites to visit.


Mike Gerrard is an award-winning writer who divides his time between the UK and the USA. He is co-editor of the 101 USA Holidays website.