Living 50 Plus Civil Rights Trail

Follow the footsteps that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. marched over Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, stand where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat at the front of a Montgomery bus and visit a church founded by slaves.

For Black History Month, celebrated every February, spend time remembering the sacrifices activists and leaders made by visiting some of Alabama’s historic sites.


Old Town

Established in 1821, five years before Decatur was incorporated as a city, Old Town, a white, working-class neighborhood originally, became a hub for the Black community during Reconstruction.

During the first half of the 20th century, Old Town thrived. Vine Street, one of Decatur’s most vibrant areas at the time, included clothing stores, doctors, dentists, bookstores, eateries, meat markets, barber shops and a movie theater – many of them Black-owned.

The neighborhood also was home to Lakeside High, the city’s high school for Blacks during segregation, the Cottage Home Infirmary and Nursing Training School managed by Dr. Willis E. Sterrs, Decatur’s first Black doctor, and First Missionary Baptist Church, founded by slaves and designed by Wallace A. Rayfield, the second licensed Black architect in America.

Along with First Missionary Baptist Church, 233 Vine St. N.W., Rayfield also designed Wayman Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, 412 Church St. N.W., and the second King’s Memorial United Methodist Church.

While in Old Town, stop by the former home of Judge James Horton, one of the judges in the historic Scottsboro Boys trials. The 3,960-square-foot house was moved last October from Greenbrier to 212 Church St. N.W. Horton oversaw the second trial, which was held in Decatur, of Haywood Patterson, one of the Scottsboro Boys defendants. Celebrating Early Old Town with Art plans on transforming the house into a legal learning center.

Morgan County Archives

For more information on the Scottsboro Boys, the term used to describe the nine Black teenagers who two white women falsely accused of rape in 1931, stop by the Morgan County Archives, 624 Bank St. N.E.

The teens were indicted less than a week after their arrests and convicted less than a month after they were charged. Eight of the defendants were sentenced to death, but in November 1932, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the convictions because the state had not provided “adequate assistance of counsel” as required by the Due Process Clause in the Fifth and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

Two rulings in the case influence the judicial system today – prosecutors are barred from selecting jurors based on race and the legal system is required to ensure defendants have adequate legal representation.

In 2013, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles voted unanimously to pardon three of the Scottsboro Boys.

On display at the archives is a wooden platform that served as the witness stand in the old Morgan County Courthouse in 1933, a witness chair, a juror’s chair, original trial records and keys to the holding cells.


In the early and mid-20th century, Decatur’s Black community boasted several semi-professional sports clubs. The Decatur Twins, later known as the Decatur Monarchs, played baseball on West Vine Street. Another baseball team, the Cedar Lake White Sox played in an orchard at Cedar Lake, which was created as an experimental Black community in 1897, and sits south of the Beltline and along Central Parkway Southwest.

The Rough Riders, a semi-professional football team active from 1959-1966, had a record of 66-2. The team played their home games at Lakeside High School.


For a day trip, head to Birmingham, a hub of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute includes a replica of a Freedom Riders bus, a rendition of a segregated city and the actual jail cell door from which Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” The museum at 520 16th St. North is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $15 for adults, $13 for ages 65 and older, $13 for military and students and free for children third grade and younger.

The statues at Kelly Ingram Park, billed as “a place of revolution and reconciliation,” memorialize tragic events that occurred in Birmingham and highlight the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. Statues at the park, 500 17th St. N., commemorate Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth; Pauline Fletcher, the first Black registered nurse in Alabama; educator, activist and philanthropist Carrie A. Tuggle; Julius Ellsberry, the first Alabamian killed in World War II; and more. A sculpture also memorializes the four Black girls killed during the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963.

While in downtown Birmingham, visit the 16th Street Baptist Church, which was originally organized in 1873 as the First Colored Baptist Church of Birmingham and was the first Black church in Birmingham. The church served as a meeting place where leaders organized marches during the Civil Rights Movement. For a tour of the church, visit Tours cost $10 for adults, $5 for students and free for ages 5 and younger.


From Birmingham, head south to Montgomery.

The Rosa Parks Museum, located at the site of Parks’ arrest, details the story of Parks, features a restored bus and more. The children’s wing takes visitors back to the 1800s and the beginning of Jim Crow segregation. Along with Parks, visitors will learn about Dred Scott, Harriett Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr. and more. 52 Montgomery St., open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Admission is $7.50 for adults and $5.50 for children.

Located on the site where enslaved people were warehoused and sold, the National Memorial of Peace and Justice remembers the victims of racially fueled killings.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice and Legacy Museum immerse visitors in the enslavement, segregation and mass incarceration faced by the Black community. Featured items include 800 steel monuments engraved with the names of the more than 4,400 victims of lynchings from 1877-1950, a sculpture dedicated to the memory of the victims of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and an art gallery with nearly 100 works. This year, the Equal Justice Initiative, the organization behind the museum and memorial, will unveil the Freedom Monument Sculpture Park. The centerpiece of the 17-acre park will be a monument inscribed with more than 120,000 surnames that were chosen by Black people emancipated after the Civil War. The site also will include historic slave dwellings and other sculptures.


Fifty miles west of Montgomery sits Selma, the site of the first march held in support of the right to vote. On March 7, 1965, the Edmund Pettus Bridge served as the site of “Bloody Sunday,” due to the violence law enforcement officers inflicted on 600 civil rights marchers.


Forty miles east of Montgomery is Tuskegee – most famous for the Tuskegee Airmen and George Washington Carver. At the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, 1616 Chappie James Ave., visitors will learn about the first Black military aviators in the nation’s history. The site is open Wednesday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Admission is free.

The George Washington Carver Museum, explores the life and legacy of Carver, an agricultural scientist and inventor. 905 West Montgomery Road. Open Thursdays and Fridays, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Admission is free.