A trip through alabama is a journey in the footsteps of history makers.
That’s what 10 tour operator and travel planner readers of The Group Travel Leader discovered during a five-day familiarization tour of the state’s southern and central regions hosted by the Alabama Tourism Department. The tour took them from Mobile in the south to Marion, Selma and Montgomery, destinations that were pivotal during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Along the way, they met foot soldiers who participated in the fight for justice and had a chance to enjoy some of the other attractions and experiences that highlight the region’s culture, nature and cuisine.
Follow along on this itinerary to begin planning a history-making Alabama tour for your travelers.
• Arrival in Mobile
• Waterfront Walking Tour
• Mobile History Museum
• Dinner at Squid Ink
Travel planners began their trips by flying or driving into Mobile, a port city on Mobile Bay with a long history and rich cultural tapestry. Those who arrived early in the day enjoyed a walking tour along the Mobile waterfront, where they learned about the shipbuilding industry, which is still a major economic engine in the area. Later, the planners visited the Mobile History Museum, a downtown institution housed in a beautiful white stone building that was constructed as a courthouse in 1858. Once everyone had arrived at the Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza Hotel, which would be home for two nights, the group walked through to Squid Ink restaurant in the city’s bustling downtown entertainment district for a lively welcome dinner.
• Breakfast at Spot of Tea
• USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park
• 5 Rivers Nature Cruise
• Lunch at Bluegill Restaurant
• Mobile Carnival Museum
• African American Heritage Tour
• Dinner at The Insider
The second day of the FAM was full of experiences that showcased the history and diversity of Mobile. After a gourmet breakfast at Spot of Tea, the group toured the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, home of several historic military vessels. Next, they took a nature cruise in the 5 Rivers Delta Area to get to know the local waterways and wildlife that inhabit them. The cruise ended at Bluegill Restaurant, where they enjoyed a fresh seafood lunch. After that, they learned about the area’s Mardi Gras traditions at the Mobile Carnival Museum. Finally, they took an African American heritage tour, which showcased significant sites in the Africatown neighborhood and along the Dora Franklin Finley African American Heritage Trail. The day ended with dinner at The Insider, a food hall that is home to a variety of local culinary businesses.
USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park
Permanently moored in Mobile Bay, the USS Alabama is a World War II battleship that served in both the North Atlantic and South Pacific. Some 2,500 sailors served aboard the 18-story ship at any given time. Today, visitors can explore the vessel in detail, learning about what life, work and war were like aboard the battleship. The memorial park is also the home of the submarine USS Drum and a pavilion with a number of historic aircraft and other military memorabilia.
5 Rivers Nature Cruise
Set within Historic Blakely State Park, the 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center is a gateway to explore the estuary created by the waterways that converge at Mobile Bay. The FAM group explored the estuary aboard a sightseeing cruise boat, whose crew shared stories about the area’s history and highlighted local flora and fauna. Along the way they saw alligators, eagles, great blue herons and great white egrets.
Mobile Carnival Museum
In 1703, Mobile was the site of America’s first Mardi Gras parade, and the Mobile Carnival Museum celebrates the city’s festive traditions. Visitors learn about the mystic societies that host more than 40 parades in the city during the 18-day celebration. Exhibits include parade floats and dozens of costumes worn by Mardi Gras kings, queens and other revelers. FAM attendees also got a chance to sample king cake, the signature dessert of the Gulf Coast region during the Mardi Gras season.
African American Heritage Tour
In 1860, the last known illegal shipment of slaves landed in the Mobile area aboard the Clotilda, carrying 110 enslaved men and women from west Africa. Years later, some of their descendants established a settlement called Africatown about five miles north of Mobile. The FAM group toured Africatown with a local heritage guide, stopping at Union Missionary Baptist Church to learn more about the area’s history and enjoy singing with members of the congregation. They also learned about the Africatown Heritage House, an interpretive site expected to open early this year.
• Breakfast at Greer’s
• Depart for Marion
• Tour and lunch at Reverie
• First Congregational Church of Marion
• Depart for Selma
• Selma Driving Tour
• Dinner with foot soldier Joanne Bland at Tally Ho
After checking out of the hotel, the group enjoyed a catered breakfast at local specialty grocery store Greer’s before embarking on the 160-mile drive north to Marion. Upon arrival, they enjoyed a tour and lunch at Reverie, a restored antebellum mansion. From there, they took a driving tour of Marion that highlighted significant civil rights sites in town and included a stop at First Congregational Church. Next, the group continued to Selma, site of the infamous Bloody Sunday attack of 1965. There the mayor welcomed them at the local library. Back on the motorcoach, they got a driving tour of town led by a former foot soldier in the civil rights movement. Then, during dinner at Tally Ho, they were joined by Joanne Bland, a civil rights activist who told stories of her experiences during the events in Selma. The group overnighted at Selma’s charming St. James Hotel.
Upon arriving in Marion, the group headed to Reverie, an 1858 Greek Revival mansion that has been restored as a historic home. The group spent some time exploring and admiring the house while Scott Peacock, a James Beard Award-winning chef, prepared a light lunch of soup, salad and his signature biscuits in the kitchen. Peacock spent some time with the group, telling the story of how he adopted Marion as his hometown, and then boarded the motorcoach to accompany them on a tour of Marion.
First Congregational Church of Marion
The widely remembered Alabama civil rights events of 1965, including Bloody Sunday and the Selma to Montgomery March, were reactions to a racially motivated killing that took place in the town of Marion a few weeks earlier. The group saw the sites where the killing and ensuing demonstration took place, then visited First Congregational Church, constructed in 1869, where a local historian told them more about Marion’s role in the civil rights movement.
Selma Driving Tour
About 25 miles southeast of Marion, Selma is a small town that was the site of one of the most momentous events of the civil rights era. A local guide who had participated in Selma’s civil rights marches and was twice arrested took the group on a tour of town, showcasing significant sites including the Dallas County Courthouse, Sturdivant Hall, Brown Chapel AME Church and a home that Martin Luther King Jr. often stayed in when he visited town.
Dinner with Joanne Bland
Groups visiting Selma can arrange to meet with people who were involved in Bloody Sunday and the Selma to Montgomery March. Known as foot soldiers, they tell their personal stories of the struggles of segregation and the sacrifices and triumphs of the civil rights movement. The FAM group enjoyed a dinner with foot soldier Joanne Bland, who recounted her experiences with the violence of Bloody Sunday and the triumph of the Selma to Montgomery March.
• Edmund Pettus Bridge Walk
• Depart for Montgomery
• Lowndes Interpretive Center
• The Legacy Museum
• National Memorial for Peace and Justice
• Dinner at Mothers of Gynecology Park
The fourth day of the trip was dedicated entirely to exploring significant civil rights sites from Selma to Montgomery. The morning began with a walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Then the group retraced the route of the Selma to Montgomery March of 1965, stopping at the Lowndes Interpretive Center to learn more about the momentous demonstration. Upon arriving in Montgomery, they took a driving tour to see important civil rights sites around the city. Then they visited two attractions operated by the Equal Justice Initiative: The Legacy Museum, which chronicles the injustices of slavery and segregation, and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which honors the memories of hundreds of lynching victims. As night fell, the group enjoyed a catered dinner at Mothers of Gynecology Park, a site operated by a local artist whose sculptures memorialize enslaved women who were subjects of involuntary medical experiments in the city. They overnighted at Embassy Suites Montgomery.
Edmund Pettus Bridge
Spanning the Alabama River, the Edmund Pettus Bridge was the site of the Bloody Sunday attack, when law enforcement officials violently turned away civil rights demonstrators who planned to march to the capitol in Montgomery. Several weeks later, demonstrators were able to successfully cross the bridge and complete their march thanks to a court order barring state interference. The FAM group followed in the footsteps of those demonstrators, walking across the bridge on foot and then spending some time in the small memorial area on the south bank of the river.
Lowndes Interpretive Center
From Selma, the group retraced the route of the 54-mile Selma to Montgomery March. Along the way, a guide who participated in the marches pointed out roadside properties where marchers spent the night. One of them is now the site of Lowndes Interpretive Center, a National Park Service facility with a 28-minute overview film and museum exhibits providing additional information about the march and the Voting Rights Act that it helped catalyze.
The Legacy Museum
Opened in 2018 by the Equal Justice Initiative, the Legacy Museum is an immersive and interactive attraction offering a sobering look at the injustices of slavery and segregation and their lasting impact on American life. It is situated a block away from one of America’s most prominent slave auction sites. Notable exhibits include re-creations of slave pens with holographic videos retelling the personal stories of enslaved people, as well as hundreds of glass jars filled with soil from lynching sites around the country.
National Memorial for Peace and Justice
Also created by the Equal Justice Initiative, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice opened in 2018 in remembrance of lynching victims. The outdoor memorial has hundreds of markers — one for each county in the Southern states — with names and dates documenting the known lynchings that took place in each one. Several sculptures throughout the site depict artistic representations of slavery and other racial injustices. A memorial garden on the site offers space for quiet reflection.
• Rosa Parks Museum
• Hank Williams Museum
• Lunch at D’Road Cafe
• Depart for Home
After breakfast at the Embassy Suites, the travel planners made stops at two more museums before finishing their time in Montgomery. The first was the Rosa Parks Museum on the campus of Troy University. The museum uses a variety of interactive and immersive exhibits to tell the story of Rosa Parks’ role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which became a touchstone that helped civil rights leaders in their push for equality in Alabama and beyond. Next was a tour of the Hank Williams Museum, which details the life of the legendary country singer and songwriter who spent his formative years in Montgomery. The final stop of the tour was D’Road Café, where participants enjoyed a hearty lunch of homemade Latin American cuisine. From there, the travel planners departed for home and began planning their groups’ journeys to Alabama.
For more information about this itinerary or planning a trip to Alabama, contact:
Alabama Tourism Department