Alabama - History and Heritage | Travel | Smithsonian
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Alabama - History and Heritage

Alabama - History and Heritage

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Civil War buffs eager to learn all about what makes Alabama unique will want to start their visit in Montgomery. When the secessionist states decided to leave the Union in 1861, delegates from each state met in Montgomery in February of that year to mobilize. Nowadays, visitors can tour the First White House of the Confederacy as well as the restored Capitol where the confederate constitution was written and Jefferson Davis was elected president.

The state also has over a dozen Civil War-related battlefields, museums and cemeteries, including the Confederate Museum in Marbury, where attendees can get a first hand look at what life was like for troops in the south. Visitors can also try their hand at soldiering at any one of the approximately 18 Civil War battle reenactments that Alabama holds every year.

Another pivotal chapter in Alabama's history is the civil rights movement that took place in the 1950s and '60s. Many of the leaders of the movement, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., hailed from Alabama, and made their home state the battleground on which they fought for equal rights.

The Civil Rights Museum Trail has many stops in Alabama, including the Civil Rights Memorial in downtown Montgomery, which honors the 40 freedom fighters who died for the cause between 1955 and 1968.

The Wall of Tolerance, also in Montgomery, is history in the making. Visitors are offered the opportunity to promote and defend racial justice by signing a pledge that is digitally projected onto the walls of the site. The Rosa Parks Museum and the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where Dr. King gave many a stirring sermon about equality and peaceable protest, are also in Montgomery.

In Selma, visitors get the opportunity to visit the National Voting Rights Museum and the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where activists faced off against vigilantes in 1965. In Birmingham, visitors should be sure to tour the portion of the city that has been officially declared the Civil Rights District. This area includes the Kelly Ingram Park, where marches were regularly formed during the heyday of the movement, as well as the memorial at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where a house bomb took the lives of four young girls attending Sunday school. Birmingham also hosts the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which has an extensive archive, exhibition space and community center dedicated to the sons and daughters of the civil rights movement.

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