Tour key civil rights sites around the South

The balcony of the Loraine Hotel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, is now part of the The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.
The balcony of the Loraine Hotel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, is now part of the The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.

ATLANTA — Key events in 1963, from organized protests in Alabama to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, “I Have a Dream” speech, galvanized the civil rights movement that eventually toppled Jim Crow laws in the South. The 50th anniversary of those events is a great time to visit sites pivotal to the end of Southern segregation and that reflect on key events in African-American history.

Birmingham, Ala.

Founded in 1871, Birmingham grew so rapidly from a small town to a booming manufacturing center, it adopted the nickname “The Magic City.” It boasts a metro population of 1 million-plus and an economy that focuses on medical research, banking, and the service industry. With hundreds of restaurants and a multitude of theaters, museums, and sports activities available, it’s an entertaining and educational getaway. Referred to by many as the “Cradle of the Civil Rights Movement,” it is home to the 16th Street Baptist Church, which is recognized as one of the key sites in the struggle for African-American civil rights.

16th Street Baptist Church: Constructed at its current location in 1911, the 16th Street Baptist Church was originally founded in 1873 as the First Colored Baptist Church of Birmingham. It is significant in the civil rights movement for a number of reasons, including its key function as a rallying point for movement leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., and the tragic bombing that occurred there on Sept. 15, 1963, which killed four young girls. Designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2006, it continues to hold services and offer tours for visitors. 1530 6th Avenue North, 205-251-9402,

Where to stay:

● Cobb Lane Bed & Breakfast: Replete with crystal chandeliers, fine china, and legendary southern hospitality, this beautifully decorated Victorian-style bed and breakfast near Birmingham’s Historic Five Points area, the downtown financial district, and the University of Alabama-Birmingham. 1309 19th St. South, 205-918-9090,

● The Hotel Highland: Located in Five Points South and close to the University of Alabama-Birmingham, the Hotel Highland is touted as the city’s premiere luxury boutique hotel. It includes 63 distinctive guest quarters with Brazilian bed linens and handcrafted furnishings. It was voted Birmingham’s top hotel in “Birmingham’s 2011 Best of the Best.” 1023 20th St. South, 205-933-9555, www.thehotel

Montgomery, Ala.

The capital of Alabama was officially incorporated in 1819. Once the capital of the Confederate States of America (prior to its relocation to Richmond), in later years the city would serve as a backdrop for several advances in the civil rights movement, among them the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Selma to Montgomery marches. Be sure to visit the Rosa Parks Museum. www.visitingmontgom

Rosa Parks Library & Museum: The museum is on the campus of Troy University at the corner of Montgomery and Moulton where Rosa Parks was arrested in 1955. Its 7,000 square feet include interactive multimedia, as well as a replica of a 1950s-era Montgomery city bus that highlights Parks’ experience. 252 Montgomery St., 334-241-8615, munity/rosa-parks-

Where to stay:

● Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa: This four-star hotel includes fine dining, a fitness and recreation center, and a total of 345 rooms — 50 of those are considered “premium” in case you’re in the mood to live extra large. 201 Tallapoosa St., 334-481-5000,

● Red Bluff Cottage: Victorian-inspired B&B includes breakfast, dinner, and an amazing view of central Montgomery. 551 Clay St., 334-264-0056,

Greensboro, N.C.

Originally it was known as a tobacco and textile town — but these days it’s setting its sights on computer and nanotechnology. Much of the center city’s early 20th century architecture remains intact, and there are multiple dining establishments and entertainment venues throughout the area. For a look at significant civil rights history, the International Civil Rights Center & Museum is a visit not to be missed. www.visitgreens

International Civil Rights Center & Museum: The museum was originally a storefront for F.W. Woolworth Company. It also was the site of the Greensboro lunch-counter sit-in of Feb. 1, 1960, when four students, in an act of nonviolent civil protest, requested to be served like white patrons. The building remains intact, and the lunch counter is exactly as it was more than 50 years ago. The museum has nearly 20 permanent displays, as well as changing exhibits. It’s an emotionally moving step back in time. 134 South Elm St., 336-274-9199, www.sitinmove

Where to stay:

● The Biltmore Greensboro Hotel: Built in 1903, over the years the building served as office space, apartments, and finally, a hotel. Restored in classic detail in the 1990s, the Biltmore Greensboro came under new management as of 2007. It is the only historic boutique hotel in center city Greensboro and offers a chance to experience period high-end accommodations like no other in the Southeast. 111 W. Washington St., 336-272-2474, bilmoregreensboro.comwww.the

● Dailey Renewal Retreat: This Queen Anne Victorian home was built in 1914 and offers comfortable and affordable accommodations in close proximity to University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the Greensboro Coliseum, and the center city business and entertainment district. 808 Northridge St., 336-451-7742, www.daileyrenewalre


Perhaps known best for its mix of blues, barbecue, and Elvis Presley, Memphis is also the site of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, death. On April 4, 1968, the iconic civil rights leader was slain on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. www.memphis

National Civil Rights Museum: The former Lorraine Motel has since been converted into the National Civil Rights Museum. With building additions and restoration to the motel, the site houses multiple permanent interactive exhibits and takes visitors on a tour through the room Dr. King stayed in at the time of his death. Ongoing updates to the facility are currently prohibiting full tours of the Lorraine; however, a special balcony tour to the scene where Dr. King once stood will be available until work is completed in the first quarter of 2014. 450 Mulberry St., 901-521-9699, www.civilrightsmus

Where to stay:

● The Peabody Hotel: This sumptuous hotel was built in 1869. With 464 guest rooms and 11 stories, the Peabody offers pet-friendly rooms and such modern amenities as a day spa, art galleries, and more. 149 Union Ave., 901-529-4000, www.peabodymem

● The Roulhac Mansion: Recently added to the National Registry of Historic Places, the Roulhac Mansion, built in 1914, boasts six breathtakingly beautiful rooms and includes a dining area, living room, hearth room, and full-size kitchen. 810 E. McLemore Ave., 901-775-1665, www.roulhac