The struggle for civil rights is remembered in many places: in famous sites like the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, and in lesser-known locations too, says Vernon Burton, an emeritus history professor at Clemson University. “This is where ordinary Americans changed the laws in this country with civil disobedience. I would call these places hallowed ground.” He shares some notable, but sometimes overlooked sites with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.
Benjamin Mays Historic Site
Greenwood, South Carolina
Without Benjamin Mays, the world might never have known Martin Luther King Jr. The Baptist preacher was the president of Morehouse College in Atlanta, when King enrolled as a 15-year-old. Mays served as his mentor, and later gave the eulogy at his funeral. “He’s an unsung hero. He was the godfather of the civil rights movement,” Burton says.
More information: mayshousemuseum.org
Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site
The 1954 U.S. Supreme court ruling that overturned school segregation takes its name from a lawsuit about poor conditions at this once African-American elementary school. “It’s a symbol of change in America,” Burton says. “It may be more important than any other case.” This site explores the court ruling, and delves into the clashes that followed the monumental decision.
More information: nps.gov/brvb
Southern Tenant Farmers Museum
Civil rights battles weren’t limited to cities and at schools. In the rural south, sharecroppers and tenant farmers, who lived in appalling conditions, struggled for fair treatment and wages. This museum explores the farm labor movement. “These were poor black and white white sharecroppers who worked together,” Burton says.
More information: stfm.astate.edu
International Civil Rights Center and Museum
Greensboro North Carolina
Visitors can connect directly to history by taking a seat at the original lunch counter where four African-American college students refused to leave until they could order a cup of coffee and doughnut. The sit-in continued for months until the store finally relented. “It set off what we think as the student movement. They’ve done a good job of presenting it in Greensboro,” Burton says.
More information: sitinmovement.org
Mississippi Civil Rights Museum
The Deep South was the front line in the struggle for equality, and this museum explores some of the most important moments, including the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till, the assassination of leader Medgar Evers, and the murder of three civil rights workers during the “Freedom Summer” of 1964. “It is one of the best of all of the civil rights museums. It will introduce you to incredible stories,” Burton says.
More information: mcrm.mdah.ms.gov
The Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center
Exhibits and programming at this center in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood celebrates and memorializes the rights leader who helped popularize the Black Power movement. In 1965, the Muslim minister was assassinated in the Audubon Ballroom, which now has a mural depicting his life, a statue and interactive displays.
More information: theshabazzcenter.org
Albany Civil Rights Institute
Music inspired protesters during the long struggle for civil rights, buoying them during confrontations and even when they were locked up in jail. Visitors can hear those songs during monthly concerts led by one of the original Freedom Singers, a local group of female performers who found international fame. “You can see and hear why music was so important,” Burton says.
More information: albanycivilrightsinstitute.org
The Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center
Decades before the civil rights protests of the 1960s, the country was shocked by the trial of nine African-American teens falsely accused of rape. This museum, started by the local black community, explores the story. “It really put the United States on trial. It publicized the injustice and how the legal system worked in the South for African Americans,” Burton says.
More information: facebook.com/sbmuseum
The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum
This museum delves deeply into African-American history, ranging from the horrors of the slave ships traversing the Middle Passage en route to America to inspiring stories of the Underground Railroad to more recent civil rights struggles,
More information: greatblacksinwax.org
Green McAdoo Cultural Center
After the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed school segregation, Clinton High School in Tennessee became one of the first in the South to integrate. This museum traces the struggles of the 12 students who faced mobs and threats of violence when they began to attend their new school.
More information: greenmcadoo.org