Civil Rights Park
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Birmingham’s Civil Rights District honors the leadership and creativity of African-Americans. From industrial power to focal point of social change, Birmingham, Alabama, has a rich and varied history.
Birmingham, AL was founded in 1871 with a purpose: to be an industrial power like its namesake in England. The city at the crossroads of the Alabama & Chattanooga and South & North railroads did indeed become a major manufacturing center, diversifying its interests as the world changed throughout the 20th century. But in the 1950s and ’60s Birmingham evolved into a center of a different kind, becoming the site of some of the most important events of the U.S. civil rights movement. This struggle and the people who led it—the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.—are commemorated in Birmingham’s six-block Civil Rights District, which includes parks, sculptures and museums celebrating the contributions of African-Americans in politics, business and the arts. A walk along these streets conjures memories of a pivotal century in the life of this Southern city.
At the center of the district is Kelly Ingram Park, bordered east and west by 16th and 17th streets and north and south by Sixth and Fifth avenues. Named for the first U.S. sailor to die in World War I, the park was the staging ground of a series of demonstrations that led eventually to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1992, the city of Birmingham renovated the park and dedicated it as “A Place of Revolution and Reconciliation.” Flanking the park are the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, a center for education, research, and discussion of civil and human rights issues.
A block south of the park is Fourth Avenue North, which honors the business and cultural contributions of Birmingham’s African-American community. There you’ll find the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, housed in the historic Carver Theatre for the Performing Arts, and featuring exhibits on Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington and others. A block away is Eddie Kendrick Memorial Park, celebrating the lead singer of the Temptations, one of Alabama’s favorite sons.