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Civil Rights Justice Becomes the Law

The cities along Interstate 10 encompass the land where landmark legal decisions were made. It’s also the land where Civil Rights activists paved the way for changes by taking back power and where progress was sometimes even peaceful.

Beginning in Lafayette, Louisiana, this itinerary takes travelers east, through Louisiana’s capital city and the Big Easy, before making stops in Alabama and Florida.

Lafayette, Louisiana

In the heart of Acadiana, Louisiana’s French region, Lafayette has special connections to Cajun and Creole culture, from zydeco music to French-themed festivals. Travelers can take food tours of the city or head to Acadian Village for an enriching and authentic Cajun experience. Lafayette also has connections to the Civil Rights Movement. In 1953, four Black students attempted to enroll in Southwestern Louisiana Institute, now known as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and were denied. The students, along with the NAACP, filed a lawsuit and won, paving the way for desegregation before the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. This peaceful victory is commemorated with the Pillars of Progress Memorial, which visitors will find on the college’s campus.

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Home to the Louisiana State University Tigers, abundant history, several museums and beautiful greenspaces, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, attracts travelers with a wide range of interests. It also has extensive Civil Rights history, with several landmarks on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail. A marker in Baton Rouge commemorates the longest march of the movement, 105 miles from Bogalusa to the Louisiana State Capitol, where activists delivered grievances to the governor. Louisiana’s Old State Capitol is also of interest, and not just for its architecture, because it was the site of a free-ride network organized during the 1953 Baton Rouge Bus Boycott. And at another protest site, S.H. Kress Department Store, students were arrested for sit-in protests that later led to a court decision keeping peaceful protesters from being arrested.

New Orleans

New Orleans’ reputation precedes it — from the raucous nightlife of Bourbon Street to the haunting allure of the paranormal to its signature medley of cuisine, the Crescent City is a bucket list item for many travelers. But the city also played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement. Visitors can tour the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, a National Historic Landmark where several legal decisions were responsible for integrating schools in the South. The results of these landmark decisions can be seen at William Frantz Elementary School, where 6-year-old Ruby Bridges became the first Black student to attend in 1960. History was made on Canal Street, where lunch counter protests and boycotts were staged, and at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, where Black and white activists alike were able to meet and strategize during a time when sitting together was illegal.

Monroeville, Alabama

Monroeville is known as the Literary Capital of Alabama thanks to two beloved authors who spent their childhoods there: Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Lee’s timeless classic, “To Kill A Mockingbird,” is set in Maycomb, Alabama, a fictional town based on Monroeville. The novel entered the cultural consciousness as a commentary on racial injustice from the perspective of a child; it mirrors Lee’s own experience watching her father, an attorney, defend a Black man accused of murder. Travelers can explore the Old Monroe County Courthouse Museum, where the trial that inspired the events in Lee’s novel took place. The museum features exhibits detailing the city’s literary legacy. Groups can also familiarize themselves with the town on a self-guided walking tour or search for all the markers on the Literary Bronze Sculpture Trail.

Panama City, Florida

Like many other Florida destinations, visitors are drawn to Panama City by its warm weather and beautiful beaches. This Panhandle city is known for a great selection of on-the-water activities, from paddleboarding to dolphin swims. Visitors can also peruse the city’s laid back, artsy community with trips to galleries, theaters and shops. At the Bay County Courthouse downtown, the Gideon v. Wainwright historical marker commemorates a legal victory that paved the way for a more just legal system. After Clarence Earl Gideon, man accused of committing a burglary, was denied legal counsel, he sued; the Supreme Court eventually ruled in Gideon’s favor, and as a result, all states are required to provide legal counsel if a defendant cannot afford their own.