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New Civil Rights Sites for 2019

The United States Civil Rights Trail launched in 2018 with over 100 sites: places where activists sought equal access to public education, public transportation and voting rights. But the trail has grown, adding six new sites where civil rights history was made or where it is memorialized.

These museums, memorials and historic destinations are recent additions to the U.S. Civil Rights Trail.

Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration and National Memorial for Peace and Justice

Montgomery, Alabama

In April 2018, the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) opened the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration in Montgomery, Alabama.

The 11,000-square-foot museum sits on a site where enslaved people were once warehoused and uses technology to illustrate the enslavement of African-Americans, the terror of racial lynchings and the legacy of racial segregation in America.

One exhibits features over 300 jars of soil collected from various lynching sites. In another area, guests can step into prison visitor booths, pick up the phone and listen to the stories of people who are incarcerated.

“We’re making this argument that slavery is connected to the racial injustice issues, especially in the current criminal justice system,” said Kiara Boone, EJI’s deputy director of community education.

The memorial provides “that opportunity to be confronted with this history in a truthful and explicit way,” she said.

A forest of 800 six-foot-tall steel monoliths are engraved with the names of 4,400 documented lynching victims. As guests continue through the memorial, the plates begin to rise until “they’re completely above your head,” Boone said.

Visitors then see the “reasons” people were lynched: passing a note to a white woman, saying no to a police officer, trying to vote, owning land.

A water exhibit is dedicated to the undocumented victims of racial terrorism, and a glass case in the center contains soil from over a dozen lynching sites.

EJI suggests that people visit the museum first and then the memorial. Both are designed to be self-guided experiences. Groups can also attend presentations about EJI and its legal work at the Peace and Justice Memorial Center, across the street, where EJI hopes to soon have a space for groups to rent.

museumandmemorial.eji.org

Bay County Courthouse

Panama City, Florida

When Clarence Earl Gideon was charged with burglarizing the Bay Harbor Pool Room in 1961, he couldn’t afford an attorney. And when he appeared in the Bay County Courthouse in Panama City, Florida, the judge refused to appoint one for Gideon, forcing him to mount his own defense at trial. When the jury convicted Gideon, the court sentenced him to five years in the state prison.

From his prison cell, Gideon appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, using the prison library for reference and writing on prison stationary. The Supreme Court overturned his conviction in the now-famous Gideon v. Wainwright case, unanimously ruling that states are required under the Sixth Amendment to provide an attorney to defendants in criminal cases who cannot afford to hire their own.

Two years after his initial trial, Gideon was retried at the same courthouse and acquitted.

A historic marker about the Gideon case sits outside the 1915 yellow-brick courthouse in downtown.

The building is still a functioning county court, so it’s open to the public; but visitors have to go through a security checkpoint. It’s also one of 14 sites on the historic downtown walking tour, and Destination Panama City can also assist with requests for step-on guides, said Jennifer Vigil, the organization’s president and CEO.

www.destinationpanamacity.com

Historic Dodgertown

Vero Beach, Florida

In his book, “Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy,” author Jules Tygiel described Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida, as a “haven of tolerance” from the Jim Crow society waiting outside its gates.

Historic Dodgertown was founded in 1948 and was the first fully integrated major league baseball (MLB) spring training site in the South. For 60 years, the Dodgers, located first in Brooklyn and later in Los Angeles, held their spring training at the facility.

Dodgers management were key in breaking professional baseball’s race barrier. From 1945 to 1946, the Brooklyn Dodgers signed seven of the first nine African-American players to professional contracts, and Jackie Robinson was the first African-American to play in the MLB when the Dodgers started him on first base April 15, 1947.

During the time of Jim Crow segregation in the Deep South, Historic Dodgertown had shared living quarters, a shared dining room and shared recreation for all players.

In 1962, several years before local schools were integrated, the Dodgertown director did away with segregated seating, water fountains and bathrooms in Holman Stadium.

Today, Historic Dodgertown is an 80-acre, year-round sports and conference center, said Ruth Ruiz, director of marketing. Although it no longer hosts Dodgers spring training, the facility still often has games, many free. Groups can call in advance to determine availability for games and can take self-guided walking tours or schedule guided tours.

www.historicdodgertown.com

Newtown Alive

Sarasota, Florida

The Newtown Alive project in Sarasota, Florida, kicked off in 2015, and after two years of extensive research and oral history collection, it culminated in 2017 with 15 historic markers and a trolley tour that highlights Newtown’s important sites and people.

African-Americans built a strong community within Sarasota, beginning in 1884 in the segregated neighborhood of Overtown; that was followed by Newtown, which was established in 1914.

However, Sarasota was a “sundown town,” meaning black people weren’t allowed outside their community after sundown, said Vickie Oldham, director of Newtown Alive. Eventually, members of the black community started asserting their rights for equal access, “including at our beautiful beaches,” she said.

Neil Humphrey Sr., owner of Humphrey’s Pharmacy and the first president of the Sarasota County NAACP, began organizing carpools for public beach “wade-ins.” Humphrey led the first caravan to Lido Beach in September 1955; a headline in the Tampa Morning Tribune read, “Sarasotans Calm as Negroes Swim at City’s Lido Beach.”

The caravans continued in some form for years, but Humphrey didn’t declare Sarasota’s beaches officially integrated until a couple of years after the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed.

Trolley tours highlight historic Overtown and Newtown sites and take groups over the same bridge protestors took to Lido Beach. “So when we ride across the bridge, it feels like the atmosphere changes for me,” Oldham said.

During the tour, a Freedom Song leader leads the group in song, and one of the tour’s signatures is having “a pioneer step on board at one of those markers and share their personal story.” For example, a former student may step on at Booker High School, or the daughter of the cook and driver who worked at an area estate may step on there.

www.newtownalive.org

Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Memorial Park and Museum

Mims, Florida

Harry T. Moore and his wife, Harriette V. Moore, were the forerunners of the modern civil rights era in Florida. The two schoolteachers were leading a comfortable life, but when Harry received a flyer about the NAACP, “he said that was what he was waiting for,” said Sonya Mallard, cultural center coordinator for the Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Memorial Park and Museum in Mims, Florida.

Harry fought for three things, Mallard said: equal pay for black teachers, the right to vote and an end to lynchings.

In 1934, he organized the first Brevard County branch of the NAACP and became its president. In 1945, he formed the Florida Progressive Voters League. Through his efforts, he helped 116,000 blacks register to vote, which attracted the attention of the Ku Klux Klan.

The 12-acre campus includes a 5,000-square-foot museum and cultural center, a walking trail with informational kiosks and a replica of the Moores’ house that the Klan bombed on Christmas night 1951, killing them both.

In the museum, visitors can see the Moores’ signatures in a 1929 voter registration handbook and a 1951 article about the explosion along with a splinter of the original house.

Visitors can also tour the replica house, which sits on the original site.

www.harryharriettemoore.org

National Historic Preservation District

St. Augustine, Florida

Some of the most iconic images of the civil rights movement came out of St. Augustine, Florida; for example, the 1964 photo of James Brock pouring bleach into the swimming pool at Monson Motor Lodge as black activists swam to protest the hotel’s whites-only policy.

Protestors took to St. Augustine’s streets for marches and held sits-ins, and eventually, Martin Luther King Jr. joined their efforts.

The Lincolnville Historic District is an area of the city that was established by freedmen after the Civil War. Though Lincolnville was a thriving community, “people were fed up with” segregation, said Regina Gayle Phillips, executive director of the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center.

At the museum, housed in the city’s first black high school, visitors can learn more about civil rights efforts in St. Augustine and even see the fingerprint card from King’s arrest there in 1964.

Many of the marches started in Lincolnville, Phillips said, and King spoke at St. Paul AME Church, just down the block from the museum.

Foot soldiers made numerous night marches to the downtown Plaza de la Constitución, where today, groups can see the Foot Soldiers Monument remembering those who fought for racial equality.

The Accord Freedom Trail includes 31 sites that celebrate the city’s role in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, including the Accord Civil Rights museum, which opened in 2014.

www.floridashistoriccoast.com

Rachel Carter

Rachel Carter worked as a newspaper reporter for eight years and spent two years as an online news editor before launching her freelance career. She now writes for national meetings magazines and travel trade publications.

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