Civil Rights—A Journey to FreedomItinerary
Day 1: Arrive in Birmingham, AL
Welcome to Alabama—a state many consider ground zero with hallowed ground for the civil rights movement. This afternoon features the first of several planned informative and engaging discussions, followed by a welcome reception.
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 ten-mile radius? Packed with history, the "Magic City" welcomes you at the Vulcan Park and Museum. Inspect the largest cast-iron statue in the world and scan beautiful views of downtown. The statue was originally commissioned to advertise Birmingham's industry at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.
Enjoy the interactive museum that holds a chronicled timeline and meet history itself in one of this enriching program's esteemed speakers—Dr. Martha Bouyer. Historian, educator, and foot soldier, Dr. Bouyer vividly brings to life how segregation in Birmingham unfolded, perhaps challenging your assumptions and formal education knowledge of the civil rights movement.
Overnight: Redmont Hotel (R)
Day 2: Birmingham
Following breakfast, rejoin Dr. Martha Bouyer today for illumination into 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 locals in a special opportunity to attend 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.
Lunch is on your own today with several options, including The 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.
Next, note 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.
Close by, find the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution that 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.
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 was led by Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth from 1953-1961, and 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.
Dinner tonight will be at leisure, with an abundance of diverse venues and menus to choose among. The bus will make scheduled drop-offs and pick-ups at Five Points South in the entertainment district for your convenience. This National Register of Historic Places neighborhood is one of Birmingham’s first street car lined suburbs, and today boasts over 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: Redmont Hotel (B)
Day 3: Birmingham / Montgomery
Rise today for a journey further south to Alabama's capital city of Montgomery, approximately 90 minutes away. In Montgomery, civil rights discovery intensifies by further probing discrimination and the role of slavery and its aftermath.
Upon arrival, we'll advance to Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church and 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 not only the history of the church, but the important impact it still has today, as faith is 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.
Lunch today will be at a hidden gem in downtown Montgomery called The Tavern & Porter Room. In this underground event space set with handcrafted dining tables and classic pub decor, our guest speaker will be civil rights activist and author Peggy Wallace Kennedy. Peggy is the daughter of George and Lurleen Wallace, both 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 and 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. Succeeding at wanting a different legacy for her sons, today Kennedy has been honored by several civil and human rights groups.
Next is a walking journey of the powerful National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Born with the dedication of creating a sober and meaningful place where people gather and reflect on America's history of racial inequality, this six-acre site uses sculpture, art, and design to help contextualize racial terror. The Equal Justice Initiative opened this 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 over 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 and join staff in a discussion of what the EJI believes and how we can advance justice for all in the United States.
Did you know from 1850 until the end of the Civil War, Montgomery, Alabama 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 bodies were auctioned off during the slave trade, where Rosa Parks was arrested, and the telegram calling for the strike on Fort Sumter was issued which triggered the Civil War.
Nearby, between a fountain and the Alabama River, experience an equally eye-opening immersion at 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.
Dinner tonight is on your own, with a variety of options available within walking distance.
Overnight: Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa (B,L)
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 therefore feature additional speakers and foot soldiers sharing firsthand, authentic accounts crucial to how we experience and understand history. Captivating and unflinching, plus 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. Selma native and former student activist in the Voting Rights march Dianne Harris joins the group. Also planned to attend is 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" when 600 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 fourteen 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.
Gather to enjoy a fellowship lunch with homemade dishes today at Tabernacle Baptist Church. Tour this church started in 1884, whose 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 the foundation—the underground work of everyday working people—who made sacrifices for the march on the bridge to even happen.
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, and around lunch time, delight in a presentation by the Gee's Bend Quilters. Discover how the women have combined skill, faith, and family into quilt masterpieces dating from the early twentieth century to the present. From an area no bigger than three square miles with no stores and a ferry that was once burned as punishment for attempting to vote, springs forth 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.
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 the frequent site of mass meetings. Note also the Sullivan and Richie Jean Sherrod Jackson Museum where Dr. King and other prominent leaders stayed and strategized while in Selma.
Traverse the landmark Edmund Pettus Bridge with Dianne Harris, retracing the footsteps of voting rights marchers and feeling the sweep of history wash 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 has described the law enforcement presence as a "sea of blue." He was beaten so badly that day 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. The current name is of a Confederate general and KKK leader.
Following the walk, board the motor coach back to Montgomery.
Along the way, 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. Among the other stories profiled is of 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.
A special musical program is in store this evening, featuring Negro spirituals with a choir. Learn the origins of these songs, how they were integrated into the first independent black churches, and how choirs supported Dr. King during his trips around the United States. Savor both the discussion and a delicious home-cooked buffet.
On the return to the hotel, sites of note will be pointed out along this Selma to Montgomery march route.
Overnight: Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa (B,L,D)
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 who were 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 is one of the events marking the beginning of the modern civil rights movement. Relieve 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, home of a great deal of African-American history. 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 an unconstitutional practice. Fun fact: did you know activist Rosa Parks, singer-songwriter Lionel Richie and television journalist Robin Roberts are from Tuskegee?
Many also do not know the true story of the Tuskegee Airmen, but that's changed today in this informative itinerary featuring these heroes. Explore Moton Field, the site of primary flight training for 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.
While in this city, 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 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, and yet became one of the most prominent scientists and inventors. 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.
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 reinforcing part of 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.
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)
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.