If you've been following me for a while, you know that my family and I love to visit Civil Rights Museums. I always lived nearby one in Memphis, and that museum taught me so much about the movement. Over the years, I've had the chance to visit so many thought-provoking Civil Rights museums. Today's list is not a list of all of the Civil Rights museums. I know there are many I haven't gone to. Before you check out today's article, I encourage you to check out the United States Civil Rights Trail. You may have an interesting museum in your backyard.
Why You Should Visit Civil Rights Museums
Before I list some of my favorite civil rights museums, let's talk about why you should visit them. America has a horrible history with race and sharing rights with anyone who isn't a rich, white male. So many of our ancestors had to fight for every single right they had. This history is so easily forgotten.
As I got older, I was able to take classes and visit places that taught me my history. In high school, as a project, one of my teachers had the class build a slave ship as a part of a lesson for Black History Month. I didn't learn the history of the Civil Rights Movement and slavery. So many students in America are building slave ships in history class instead of learning about the problems this era caused and continues to create in the African American community.
These museums widen their focus. Many museums extend their focus to include other movements, the issues we are facing now, and what we can do to better the future. We have to stop pretending like race doesn't exist or doesn't make a difference in our world.
The information contained in these museums isn't easy to see. Our history is awful, and that's why we can't repeat it. We visit these museums to understand that history. We cannot avoid what we do not know.The history of civil rights is an American story. Check out these three civil rights museums in the United States that you need to visit. #CivilRightsTrail #AmericanHistory Click To Tweet
1. The National Civil Rights Museum In Memphis, Tennessee
Since I grew up an hour from Memphis, Tennessee, the National Civil Rights Museum was always a quick car ride away. Since I was so close, this museum has a special place in my heart. I love that this museum gives an excellent overview of the civil rights movement.
The National Civil Rights Museum is inside the Lorraine Motel. Martin Luther King Jr. was in Memphis working with sanitation workers when he was assassinated in 1968. They turned the motel he was staying in when he was killed into this museum. The building across the street, where the gunman was, is also a part of the museum. The second building focuses on what happened after MLK was murdered. It even talks about what we are doing today.
This museum is full of history, interactive exhibits, and more. If you are coming to Memphis for this museum, expect to stay awhile. I could spend hours here. If you want to see both buildings in their entirety, you have to be careful about the time you spend. The first building has so much information it can be easy to spend all of your time in the main building without getting over to the legacy building. Trust me, most of the time, I don't even get to the second building when going to the National Civil Rights Museum.
Once you finish the museum, I encourage you to take a look at the gift shop. The National Civil Rights Museum has one of my favorite museum gift shops. The prices are reasonable, and there are so many amazing gifts there. You are sure to find the perfect item to commemorate your experience in the gift shop.
2. The National Center For Civil And Human Rights In Atlanta, Georgia
When I went to Atlanta for vacation last year, I got to spend quite a bit of time checking out Civil Rights related places in Atlanta. Atlanta has a rich history within the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. In 2014, the National Center For Civil And Human Rights was open to the public in Downtown Atlanta.
One thing I loved about this museum was the Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection gallery. This gallery is sourced from artifacts from the Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection. There are so many items from the Civil Rights era housed here. You can't take pictures, and everything is under glass, but it's so interesting being that close to those documents and history. Often Civil Rights museums have some printed photos, lots of facts, stories, et cetera. You don't get up and close with the documents/artifacts often.
This museum does a fantastic job of connecting the Civil Rights Movement to the global Human Rights Movement. You spend a lot of time learning about the history of civil rights in America, but you also get to expand that to see how this movement was impacted by and impacted the global movement.
Like the museum in Memphis, this museum has fantastic interactive and informative exhibits. You'll walk away feeling knowledgeable, and that's not the only Civil Rights related activity in Atlanta. If you've got more time, stop by The King Center. There you can see Dr. King's crypt, visit his childhood home, and explore other buildings crucial to the Civil Rights movement. The King Center is a bit of a distance from downtown Atlanta. You can get there by taking a quick Lyft or Uber ride from the National Center For Civil And Human Rights.
3. The Legacy Museum And The National Memorial For Peace And Justice In Montgomery, Alabama
Last, but not least, let's talk about a museum I just visited while I was in Montgomery, Alabama. The Legacy Museum and The National Memorial For Peace And Justice have to be some of the most amazing museums I have ever seen. I got to see quite a few museums while I was in Montgomery, but this one was so beautifully done. If you are ever in Montgomery, this has to be on your list of things to do.
The Legacy Museum and The National Memorial For Peace And Justice were founded in 2018 by the Equal Justice Initiative.
The Legacy Museum
The museum is a beautifully done museum that tackles Civil Rights from enslavement to mass incarceration. It touches on:
- Slavery (and Montgomery's role in it)
- America's history of terror lynchings and Jim Crow
- The Civil Rights movement
- The period of mass incarceration we are in now
No photos are allowed in the museum, but it is an experience you'll never forget. The stories shared in that museum are hard to hear but necessary to tell.
The location of this museum is part of what makes it so heartbreakingly necessary. The museum sits on a site where slaves used to be warehoused. This museum is a block away from where one of the most prominent slave auctions in the country used to be. It's also close to a dock and rail station in Montgomery where countless Black people were trafficked in the 1800s. When you are at the museum, and in the city of Montgomery, you feel the weight of that history.
The National Memorial For Peace And Justice
The National Memorial For Peace And Justice is another site that EJI built. While they are technically two separate sites, I am counting them together. There is a shuttle that runs between the sites making it even easier to see both in one day. Visiting the memorial was harrowing, but necessary. This memorial is dedicated to the thousands of American lynching victims.
EJI did so much research finding these cases, and putting them on display. When you look at each column, you know that there is at least one name on it. Most columns had multiple names. If there was a lynching in your county, there was a memorial with your county on it. This is the history that so easily gets left behind. I got to look at my home county's memorial, and seeing so many names on it broke my heart. I always knew there would be lynching victims in my hometown, but to see it there was still challenging.
EJI's mission to bring these markers to the counties is amazing. They want to make sure there is something that marks these lynchings in these counties. If I didn't visit this museum, I wouldn't have known about this history in my county or hometown. EJI has these markings up in the memorial, and they have replicas in the back that you can visit. The hope is that these counties will claim their marker and put it up in a prominent place in the city. I am not sure if many counties have claimed their marker yet, but I know some counties have expressed interest.
If you have some time, check out the garden at the National Memorial For Peace And Justice. It's a beautiful, serene place. After immersing myself in the memorial, going to the garden was a place of reflection.
Exploring the history of the Civil Rights Movement is a fantastic thing to do. We don't explore this history enough in American classrooms, and it can be swept away so easily. Instead of forgetting the past, we have to look to it. The Civil Rights Movement was a dangerous time in American history. We don't want to go back to that level of oppression. We can do so much better if we understand and learn from the past.