Civil Rights—A Journey to FreedomItinerary
We endeavor to follow the published itinerary, but there may be exceptional circumstances when it is not possible to do so. Because our tour arrangements are made well in advance, changes may be necessary. We reserve the right to modify the itinerary as needed.
Day 1: Arrive in Birmingham, AL
Welcome to Alabama—a state many consider hallowed ground for the civil rights movement. This afternoon features the first of several planned activities and engaging discussions.
Did you know Birmingham was named after Birmingham, UK, and is the only place in the world where all three raw ingredients for steel (coal, limestone, and iron ore) occur naturally within a 10-mile radius? Overlooking the city is Vulcan, the largest cast-iron statue in the world. The statue was commissioned to advertise Birmingham's steel industry at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. Packed with history, the "Magic City" welcomes you!
Dependent on scheduling with museum hours of operation, today/tomorrow we will explore key sites in Birmingham, including the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
Meet history itself in one of this enriching program's esteemed speakers—Dr. Martha Bouyer. Historian, educator, and foot soldier, Dr. Bouyer gives an overview of the program and vividly brings to life how segregation in Birmingham unfolded, perhaps challenging your assumptions and formal education knowledge of the civil rights movement.
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, is a cultural and educational research center promoting a comprehensive understanding of civil rights in Birmingham. Here at this state-of-the-art facility, be enveloped in an impactful maze of moving audio, video, and photography exhibits telling the story of racial segregation to present-day racial progress. Examine basic issues of morality, law, justice, and responsible citizenship.
Also visit Kelly Ingram Park, site of rallies, demonstrations, and confrontations in the 1960s. This park became the focus of civil disobedience for citizens demanding equality. Footage of police attack dogs and high-powered fire hoses remain indelibly imprinted on those who survived the experience or have seen the images. Walk this pivotal place in the struggle for desegregation where racial injustice shocked the conscience of the nation and the world. History is depicted with powerful monuments and sculptures.
This evening, for dinner on your own, guests may choose one of the many excellent and diverse restaurants in the area or have the evening meal onsite at the hotel. The bus will make scheduled drop-offs and pick-ups at Five Points South for your convenience. This National Register of Historic Places neighborhood is one of Birmingham’s first street-car-lined suburbs, boasting more than 40 culinary destinations and 30 retailers. Award-winning James Beard restaurants and historically significant architecture await you in this vibrant food hub. Dining establishments include Highlands Bar and Grill, Hot and Hot Fish Club, Bottega, Chez Fonfon, Ocean, Jim 'N Nicks, Dreamland BBQ, and many more.
Overnight: The Tutwiler Hotel
Day 2: Birmingham
Following breakfast, embark upon a driving tour to see significant historic sites, including the Birmingham Jail, Dynamite Hill, Linn Park, Phillips High School, the Black business district, and more.
Birmingham was a stronghold of segregation, enforced by law, custom, and violence. See the Birmingham Jail where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. penned a famous letter after being imprisoned as a participant in nonviolent demonstrations against segregation. King's eloquent document explains why he chose to come to the city. In it he writes, "...I am in Birmingham because injustice is here... I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned... injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
Connect with history and local residents with a special opportunity by briefly popping into the morning praise and worship services at 16th Street Baptist Church. At this sobering site critical to the civil rights movement, uncover the story of four young lives lost through an unimaginable act. Learn how this domestic terrorism produced political pressure that helped ensure passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This legislation eliminated the official segregation of public accommodations. Gaze upon an iconic stained-glass window depicting a Black Christ with a right hand pushing away hatred and injustice, and a left hand offering forgiveness. Donated to the church by the freedom-loving people of Wales, this heart-warming image appears with a rainbow of racial unity.
Pausing for lunch, we board the bus for time on your own at a local restaurant. One option includes the aptly named, "Southern Kitchen." This establishment exudes a casual sophistication, beckoning guests to feel at home with an inspired menu offering acclaimed southern delicacies from fried green tomatoes to shrimp and grits.
Later, learn how important mass meetings were for the movement by visiting Bethel Baptist Church and Shuttlesworth parsonage. Bethel Baptist Church, where Dr. Bouyer serves her community as the Director of the Historic Bethel Baptist Church Foundation, was at the forefront of the church-led civil rights movement of the 1950s, using nonviolent mass techniques to affect social change. Find out how the congregation was crucial to the success of the 1961 Freedom Rides. Bethel, led by Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth from 1953-1961, was bombed repeatedly between 1956 and 1962. In 2008, the Birmingham municipal airport was re-named the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in honor of his contributions. The church is included within the National Monument boundaries designated by President Barack Obama in 2017.
Return to the hotel to rest and refresh before an included dinner and engaging conversation with the group this evening.
Overnight: The Tutwiler Hotel (B,D)
Day 3: Birmingham / Montgomery
Rise today for a journey further south to Alabama's capital city of Montgomery, approximately 90 minutes away. In Montgomery, analysis of civil rights intensifies by further probing discrimination and the role of slavery and its aftermath.
At Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, meet its warm and effervescent Tour Minister, Wanda Battle. At this unassuming red brick National Historic Landmark, see the modest pulpit where Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. first preached his message of hope and brotherhood. Dr. King served as pastor here from 1954-1960, leading the 1955-1956 Montgomery bus boycott. Wanda's knowledge and positive energy bring to life the history of the church and its impact as an integral thread woven in the community's fabric. Prepare to be engaged with inspiration, smiles, and Wanda joyfully erupting in song at this key civil rights site.
Next at Dexter, meet civil rights activist and author Peggy Wallace Kennedy, daughter of George and Lurleen Wallace, former governors of Alabama. In the summer of 1963, Peggy was a young girl watching her father attempt to block African-American students from entering schoolhouse doors and declaring, "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." Listen to Kennedy recount what it was like to grow up as the child of a man who gave her M&M candies, called her "sugah," but was considered "the most dangerous racist in America" by Martin Luther King, Jr. Hear her unique and moving account of reconciliation and redemption shared in the tradition of southern storytelling. Seeking a different legacy for herself and her sons, Kennedy has been honored by several civil and human rights groups.
Lunch today will be on your own at the Equal Justice Intiative's pavillion. The Equal Justice Initiative opened the first comprehensive facility in our nation dedicated to the thousands of African-American victims of lynching, segregation and Jim Crow, and presumptions of guilt and police violence. It features more than 800 hanging steel monuments, each engraved with the name of a U.S. county and a list of people lynched there. Soak in the significance of those memorialized with a self-guided visit. There will also be time to browse the bookstore and coffee shop.
Did you know from 1850 until the end of the Civil War, Montgomery was the Southern port most active in slave trading—even more than New Orleans? Visit the history-rich area of the Court Square-Dexter Avenue District, where human beings were auctioned off during the slave trade, Rosa Parks was arrested, and the telegram calling for the strike on Fort Sumter was issued to trigger the Civil War.
Nearby, experience the Legacy Museum. This 11,000-square-foot facility was built on the site of a former warehouse where enslaved Black people were imprisoned. Just past the entrance, a ramp slopes down to holding pens where holograms tell their stories. Leaving the cages, learn how slavery after Reconstruction was "dusted off and repurposed" in the American penal system. Emotion and evidence combine to engage guests with a stunning and necessary message of the role of slavery and its enduring impact of racial oppression.
Visit the powerful National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Created as a somber and meaningful place for people to gather and reflect on America's history of racial inequality, this six-acre site uses sculpture, art, and design to help contextualize racial terror.
Arrive at the hotel for check-in and delight this evening in a musical tribute by Wanda Battle and friends at Bricklayers' Hall.
Overnight: Springhill Suites by Marriott (B,D)
Day 4 : Montgomery / Selma / Montgomery
As the civil rights generation matures, preserving the personal stories of those in this social justice movement takes on a sense of urgency. Today's planned activities feature additional speakers and foot soldiers who share firsthand, authentic accounts crucial to how we experience and understand history. Captivating and unflinching, as well as warm and welcoming, they offer insight into the past found nowhere else.
Following breakfast, take a short drive to Selma, a small town of around 18,000 people, located in central west Alabama. Dianne Harris, Selma native and former student activist in the Voting Rights march, joins the group. Also, meet Joyce O'Neal, Tour Director for Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church, the first A.M.E. church in Alabama and the headquarters for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during the 1965 Voting Rights campaign. It was the site of preparations for the march to Montgomery on March 7, 1965, a day that became known as "Bloody Sunday." Six hundred marchers were violently turned back with whips, horses, and tear gas by state troopers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Originally the plan had been to march to the capitol building in Montgomery to demand voting rights from Governor George Wallace. Feel history come alive listening to vivid stories of that day and of the victory 14 days later on March 21, when thousands of demonstrators successfully crossed the bridge. Today you will have the opportunity to walk this same structure in the footsteps of brave men, women, and children who risked everything.
On a drive through Selma's neighborhoods, see First Baptist Church—originally referenced as the First "Colored" Baptist Church that was host to the Dallas County Voters League, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and mass meetings. Also see the Sullivan and Richie Jean Sherrod Jackson Museum where Dr. King and other prominent leaders stayed and strategized while in Selma.
Discover Tabernacle Baptist Church. Begun in 1884, its members were active in the Dallas County Voters League that invited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Selma in 1964. Grasp the statement African American architect David T. West made by designing the church with two identical entrances. Meet foot soldier Dr. Verdell Lett Dawson for an oral history and learn about the underground work and sacrifices everyday working people made to bring the march on the bridge to fruition. A presentation is planned by Dianne Harris and Joyce O'Neal.
Break for lunch before a special meeting with quilters. Imagine a remote community surrounded on three sides by water with only a few hundred residents, many of whom are the descendants of slaves. This describes Gee's Bend. Discover how the women have combined skill, faith, and family into quilt masterpieces dating from the early 20th century to the present. Women, who have lived in three square miles with no stores and a ferry once burned as punishment for attempting to vote, have created bold, beautiful art displayed in museums and galleries all over the world. Improvised patterns crafted from recycled work clothes and dresses, feed sacks, and fabric remnants represent an incredible story of resilience and creativity.
Traverse the landmark Edmund Pettus Bridge with Dianne Harris, retracing the footsteps of voting rights marchers. Feel a sense of history sweeping over you. Picture the scene marchers found awaiting them on the other side of the bridge on "Bloody Sunday" and acknowledge the fear and courage they had. The late civil rights icon and Georgia congressman John Lewis was there, and described the law enforcement presence that day as a "sea of blue." He was beaten so badly that he suffered a broken skull. In 2020, he paid tribute to the 55th anniversary of the event by crossing the bridge again at the age of 80. Currently a petition is gaining signatures and traction to rename the civil rights landmark after John Lewis. It's currently named for a Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader.
On the return to Montgomery, stop in the Lowndes Interpretive Center, which is dedicated to those who peacefully marched the 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights. A collection of memorable and educational displays showcases the journey, including "Tent City," which housed Black sharecropper families evicted for attempting to and/or registering to vote. Learn about civil rights activist Viola Gregg Liuzzo, who was shot and killed by the Ku Klux Klan near this center. Mrs. Liuzzo, a white mother of five from Michigan, had traveled to Alabama in March 1965 to help the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with its efforts to register African-American voters.
On the return to the hotel, sites of note will be pointed out along this Selma to Montgomery march route. Dinner this evening is on your own with many options located near the hotel.
Overnight: Springhill Suites by Marriott (B,L)
Day 5: Montgomery / Tuskegee / Birmingham / Depart Birmingham
After breakfast, explore the Rosa Parks Museum. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, an active leader in the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was arrested for refusing to vacate her bus seat for a white passenger. The timing of her arrest aligned with plans from a number of individuals and organizations hoping to test Montgomery’s segregation laws in court. The Women’s Political Council, a civic organization for African-American women, was the first to call for a boycott—a controversial call that was later adopted broadly within Montgomery and neighboring African-American communities. The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted from 1955-1956 and marks one of the events beginning the modern civil rights movement. Relive this tumultuous era with a video, artifacts, historical documents, a life-size statue of Mrs. Parks, and a replica of the bus in which she sat that day.
Next, depart Montgomery and travel east to the town of Tuskegee. At the height of the civil rights movement, Tuskegee was part of a landmark voting rights case, Gomillion v. Lightfoot, which found the gerrymandering of districts to limit the African-American vote to be unconstitutional. Fun fact: did you know activist Rosa Parks, singer-songwriter Lionel Richie and television journalist Robin Roberts are from Tuskegee?
While in this city, visit the Tuskegee University Legacy Museum and survey the campus of Tuskegee University. It is the first Black college to be designated as a Registered National Historic Landmark (April 2, 1966), and the only Black college to be designated a National Historic Site (October 26, 1974). The institution is the offspring of two American giants—Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver.
Pause for a group photo at the statue Lifting the Veil of Ignorance, which depicts Booker T. Washington and is inscribed, "He lifted the veil of ignorance from his people and pointed the way to progress through education and industry." Washington was born into slavery, and after emancipation, he overcame immense challenges to devote his life to promoting the advancement of African-Americans.
Washington recruited the best and the brightest to come and teach at Tuskegee, including George Washington Carver, the institute’s most celebrated professor. Carver, too, was born into slavery but became a prominent scientist and inventor. Carver’s innovations in agriculture, especially with peanuts, were important in the South’s economic growth. Amazingly, he devised hundreds of uses for the peanut, including milk, plastics, paints, dyes, cosmetics, medicinal oils, soap, ink, and wood stains.
Many also do not know the true story of the Tuskegee Airmen. Explore Moton Field, the site of primary flight training for these pioneering World War II pilots. Cadets trained in Stearman PT-17 biplanes, aircraft tough enough to withstand the rigors of learning. Capture a photo of the bright yellow trainer aircraft on display in the hangar known as the "Spirit of Tuskegee." African-Americans trained here in a system set up for them to fail. The program had been created to prove these men didn't possess the physical and mental abilities to lead, fly military aircraft, or fight in war. In the skies over Europe, however, this was heartily proved incorrect, and success paved the way for the integration of the U.S. military, federal government, and the nation overall. Gain insight into the challenges overcome and the accomplishments celebrated through stories of some of America's most important citizens.
A celebratory farewell lunch serving generous helpings of southern hospitality awaits at the private, restored antebellum home of husband and wife owners, Sandy Taylor and Harvey Mattox. Taylor is the retired Superintendent of the National Park Services' Tuskegee Site. Built around 1855, discover eight fireplaces, five bedrooms, and nearly 5,000 square feet of living space along with meticulously hand-stripped floors and vibrantly painted walls. See the dining room, adorned by two different shades of lavender that influenced the home's name—The Lavender Inn, Tuskegee's Historic Cobb House. Unwind with an imaginative and delicious meal among wonderful company for additional discussion in a setting beautifully incorporating old and new.
Depart Tuskegee for Birmingham.
Afterward, return to Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport for flights home. Guests continuing on the optional Muscle Shoals post-tour will depart the airport for Florence, AL. (B,L)
Note: Due to the nature of this cultural exploration, (including varying hours and services from the National Park system and non-profits), itineraries are guidelines and may change in order to maximize enrichment opportunities.
It is our expectation that guests on this program are able to walk a mile at a moderate pace, walk up and down a flight of stairs, and get in and out of a motor coach without assistance.