9 Southern Civil Rights Museums to Visit and Support
The civil rights movement affected the trajectory of the United States and influenced the rest of the world, but it all began in the South. Today, many sites important to the civil rights movement have been made into museums that you can visit and support all year long.
Worried about the drive or flight to where they’re located? Many museums offer virtual tours and accept one-time or monthly donations. They’re a powerful reminder that even the biggest obstacles can change as long as people unite and organize for a better world.
1National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee
Known as the site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, the NCRM was once the Lorraine Motel and catered to middle-class Black guests during the segregation era. It became the National Civil Rights Museum in 1991 after a foundation bought the motel as well as several nearby buildings. It remains a significant part of Memphis and U.S. history and includes both permanent and changing exhibitions.
2National Museum of African American Music, Nashville, Tennessee
While not technically a civil rights museum, the NMAAM looks at musical traditions from Africa that arrived and were preserved during times of slavery and would later influence all of American music history. The museum features visual, sound, and digital experiences that allow visitors to explore African American history through musical traditions, social justice movements, fashion, and politics.
3Emmett Till Historic Intrepid Center (ETHIC), Glendora, Mississippi
Located in the Mississippi Delta, ETHIC details the story of Emmett Till including his life in Chicago, re-creates the room he slept in during his visit with family in Mississippi, and explores what his death meant to Black people and civil rights activists around the country. It also celebrates the life of blues musician and Glendora native Sonny Boy Williamson.
4Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, Jackson, Mississippi
The city of Jackson was the site of the 1961 arrests of Freedom Riders who were sent to Parchman Prison. Officially opened in 2017 and situated in Jackson, Mississippi, this museum looks at the stories of Mississippi organizers during the civil rights movement. Some of these include Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers, and Victor Dahmer. The museum also has special exhibits and cultural events to continue educating visitors about the fight for civil rights today.
5Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Birmingham, Alabama
Alabama was yet another important state in the fight for civil rights. The BCRI is actually part of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, which protects a historic district in Birmingham that saw much violence during the civil rights movement. This includes churches such as 16th Street Baptist Church, St. Paul United Methodist Church, Bethel Baptist Church, and Kelly Ingram Park, an influential site for protests, including the Children's March.
6Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama
This church is known mostly because of its world-famous pastor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but its history is much longer than this. It was founded as Second Colored Baptist Church in 1877, several years after the Emancipation Proclamation officially ended slavery. During Dr. King's time as a pastor, the church became the site of meetings where the Montgomery Bus Boycotts were organized. The Dexter Avenue King Memorial Legacy Center is located behind the church.
7Central High School, Little Rock, Arkansas
In 1957, nine high school students attempted and were denied enrollment in high school. This led to protests against integration and even involved U.S. Army escorts to ensure the safety of the students. Ultimately, the school had to allow security to remain until it could no longer afford to, and a judge even suspended integration temporarily, but justice won. The school is in operation today and a museum explaining its significance in integrating schools is located across the street.
8The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Montgomery, Alabama
Opened in 2018, this memorial is a tranquil and somber memorial to violent lynchings that went undocumented. It allows visitors to remember the victims and process some of the trauma the Black community faced as a result, and invites people to start the process of healing through art.
9The International Civil Rights Center and Museum, Greensboro, North Carolina
This museum was built on the former site of the famous Woolworth's sit-in during the civil rights movement. In February 1960, four students sat at the counter of Woolworth's in a form of nonviolent protest against "whites only" service. The next day, 20 students joined them, and both sit-ins and boycotts followed for roughly six months as part of peaceful protests for integration and equal rights. The ICRCM boasts both permanent and special exhibits that educate visitors about the struggle for civil rights.