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Civil Rights Museums Make an Impact

On the U.S. Civil Rights Trail, museums are more than the sum of their artifacts.

With historic exhibits, multimedia presentations and moving experiential programs, museums make learning personal. And institutions dealing with America’s civil rights journey impact many visitors in a deeply personal way.

The museums along the U.S. Civil Rights Trail preserve some of the most important objects, documents and landmarks of the past and present, ensuring history is not forgotten. At the same time, they are also making themselves more accessible with resources like virtual tours and interactive programs.

Here are five significant civil rights museums sure to make a deep impact on travelers.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Birmingham, Alabama

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) is a cultural and educational research center located in Birmingham, Alabama. Since its founding in 1992, the BCRI has been dedicated to educating the public about the civil rights movement and its impact on the world today. The BCRI is committed to conserving the legacy of the civil rights movement, advancing the work of social justice and assuring the fight for equality continues.

Inside the BCRI, visitors will find exhibits that chronicle the civil rights movement in Birmingham and how it affected the entire nation. Highlights include photographs, artifacts and interactive displays such as a statue depicting Rosa Parks sitting on a bus. Visitors can also learn about Birmingham’s history through interactive programs and workshops held at the institute.

“The BCRI offers educational programs for students and adults, including a summer camp and a student leadership program,” said Barry McNealy, historical content expert at the museum.

“We also host a variety of events throughout the year, including lectures, film screenings and special events.”

Mississippi Civil Rights Museum

Jackson, Mississippi

The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum is a powerful and meaningful institution that has been open since 2017. Located in Jackson, Mississippi, the museum is dedicated to keeping and memorializing the significant moments of the civil rights movement in the state while giving special attention to the murders of Medgar Evers and Emmett Till. The museum is a place of learning and reflection, a testament to the resilience and courage of those who fought for civil rights in Mississippi.

The museum is divided into eight galleries, chronologically telling each phase of the state’s history between 1845 and 1976. The galleries feature exhibits on slavery, the Civil War, World War II, the history of segregation and discrimination, the struggle for voting rights, and the fight for justice and equality. The last gallery, titled “Where Do We Go from Here?” encourages the museum’s attendees to reflect on what they saw and learned from the eight galleries.

Guests are also invited to read what Mississippians think about the state’s progress over the years and what still needs to be done. Visitors can also explore these exhibits through interactive displays, audio recordings and video presentations.

The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum also has a library that includes books, magazines and other materials related to the civil rights movement.

Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum

Independence, Missouri

The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri, preserves the legacy of the 33rd president of the United States and serves as a repository for documents and artifacts related to his life and presidency.

The library holds a variety of documents, including official presidential papers, correspondence, photographs and other materials. Visitors to the library can take a self-guided tour of the museum, which includes exhibits on Truman’s early life, his presidency and his post-presidency years. In addition, the library has an extensive collection of books, periodicals and other materials related to Truman and his presidency.

The Truman Library is included in the U.S. Civil Rights Trail because of President Truman’s efforts to end segregation among the military, as well as his enforcement of anti-lynching laws and ending poll taxes that were used as a tactic to keep Black citizens from voting.

At the museum, visitors will learn about Truman’s personal process of transformation. As a child, the president was taught all races were not equal. He was cited using racial slurs and even working with the Ku Klux Klan during his first run for a political office. Later in his presidency, though, Truman was made aware that Black veterans were being brutally beaten and even lynched. As a veteran himself, Truman found this revelation unconscionable and started a civil rights committee and enforced the equality laws.

International Civil Rights Center and Museum

Greensboro, North Carolina

In 1960, four African American college students in Greensboro, North Carolina, entered an F.W. Woolworth and sat at the whites-only lunch counter, demanding to be served. This event sparked a wave of sit-ins across the country and helped to shape the future of the civil rights movement. 

That building is the home of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum (ICRCM). It was created to commemorate that pivotal moment in the civil rights movement. Founded in 2010, the ICRCM is dedicated to those brave students, who had a significant impact on the civil rights movement. 

The museum features a variety of exhibits that tell the story of the civil rights movement and its impact. Visitors can explore interactive displays, watch videos and view artifacts from the era. The museum also hosts lectures, workshops and other educational programs.

The ICRCM serves as a reminder that the struggle for civil rights is ongoing and we must continue to work together to ensure all people have equal rights and opportunities.

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Washington, D.C.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is a Smithsonian Institution museum located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Opened in 2016, the museum is dedicated to the documentation of African and African American life, history and culture. The museum is home to more than 37,000 artifacts, including the earliest surviving copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, a segregated Southern Railway car and a Tuskegee Airmen flight suit.

The museum’s permanent exhibitions detail the African American experience from the Middle Passage to the present day. Visitors can explore the history of the civil rights movement, the impact of slavery on the United States and the contributions of African Americans to the nation’s culture and society. The museum also features interactive exhibits, films and educational programs.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is an important resource for understanding the African American experience. Its collections and exhibitions provide insight into the struggles, triumphs and ongoing legacy of African Americans in the United States.

The museum is free to visit, but timed entry tickets are required.