Historic Sites In Alabama. More Than Just Parks has 5 incredible must-see sites for you.
I’ve been to so many of these amazing places since retiring from teaching in 2018. Did I mention that I taught history? I spent a lifetime teaching about the history behind these momentous sites. Then I got to see them firsthand. And now I’m sharing the stories of these incredible places with you. It doesn’t get any better than that!
I’m going to give you my list of the 5 Historic Sites In Alabama that you’ll want to see.
To be clear, this list includes national park sites (as in sites managed by the National Park Service) as opposed to national parks.
If you are planning a trip to Alabama then you might want to pick up a copy of Alabama Bucket List Adventure Guide: Explore 100 Offbeat Destinations You Must Visit!
Without further ado, let’s dive in.
Historic Sites In Alabama
5. Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site
In 1903, W. E. B. Du Bois prophetically stated: “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” In Alabama, you’ll learn firsthand about the struggle for racial equality as the state offers its visitors some amazing historical sites which tell this very important story.
At #5 on our list of historic sites in Alabama, More Than Just Parks has the Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site.
On July 4, 1881, The Tuskegee Institute was founded by Booker T. Washington. It began operations as the Normal School for Colored Teachers at Tuskegee in 1881.
Washington believed the best form of education for his students—initially all future teachers themselves—would be practical skills. The school focused on modern farming methods, construction, carpentry, bricklaying, domestic service, and other industrial subjects.
The Institute was instrumental in building the first black Veterans Administration hospital and in the creation of what would become known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
In 1974, the Congress authorized the creation of Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site. Tuskegee University is the only college that is part of the National Park system. In 1985, the school became Tuskegee University.
George Washington Carver
One cannot separate the work of the Tuskegee Institute from that of its most famous faculty member.
If you know anything about George Washington Carver then you likely know he had something to do with peanuts. Mark Hersey is a history professor at Mississippi State University. He’s the author of My Work Is That of Conservation. It’s an environmental biography of Carver.
Hersey makes the case that Carver did more than just work for peanuts. He made important contributions to the environmental movement, including his visionary ideas about self-sufficiency and sustainability.
Things To Do At The Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site
I only wish I had had the funds to take my students to this incredible place when I was teaching them about the historical experiences of African-Americans. The George Washington Carver Museum is a place where you can learn about one extraordinary African-American. It’s open to the public. It features exhibits, interpretive programs, and a bookstore.
The “Oaks” is the home of George Washington Carver. You can take free ranger-guided tours of his historic home.
Visitors are also free to explore the historic campus of the Tuskegee Institute.
A map of the District and limited campus tours are available from the Carver Museum.
Historic Sites In Alabama
4. Freedom Riders National Monument
At #4 on our list of historic sites in Alabama we have the Freedom Riders National Monument. The Freedom Riders were among the first of more than 400 volunteers who traveled throughout the South on regularly scheduled buses for seven months in 1961.
Their mission was to test a 1960 Supreme Court decision that declared segregated facilities for interstate passengers illegal.
The Freedom Riders were organized and led by the Congress of Racial Equality’s (Core) Executive Director James Farmer.
A dozen activists were paired into two interracial sets of Freedom Riders. They traveled on Greyhound and Trailways buses, respectively, from Washington D.C. to New Orleans, LA.
Met By A Mob In Anniston, Alabama
The Freedom Riders journey proceeded without incident until they reached Anniston, Alabama. There they were met by an angry mob whose members threw rocks and slashed the bus’s tires. The white supremacists then firebombed the vehicle.
A different group of the Freedom Riders traveled to Montgomery, Alabama, where another angry mob of men, women and children carrying baseball bats, tire irons and bricks met them at the terminal. They attacked Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) activists John Lewis and Jim Zwerg who both sustained severe injuries.
Explore Freedom Riders National Monument
The Freedom Riders National Monument includes the former Greyhound Bus Station located at 1031 Gurnee Avenue. It also includes the place where the bus was firebombed.
It’s about six miles outside of the town on State Route 202, two sites where the Freedom Riders were attacked by segregationist mobs.
Historic Sites In Alabama
3. Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site
At #3 on our list of historic sites in Alabama we have a site which I found awe-inspiring as I was familiar with the story of this group of extraordinary men. It’s the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.
Jackie Robinson proved that there was nothing a white man could do in the major leagues that a black man couldn’t. Most people know his story.
What most people don’t know, however, is the story of an extraordinary group of African American pilots who proved there’s nothing they couldn’t do in defense of their country as well or better than their white counterparts.
African Americans had to fight the prejudices of their fellow countrymen before they could take up arms against the enemies of America.
It was a Howard University student who initially lodged a lawsuit in protest. His efforts in conjunction with mounting pressure from the black press and the NAACP persuaded President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor to give African Americans the opportunity to fly combat missions in World War Two.
It All Began In Tuskegee, Alabama
Initially, Tuskegee produced twelve cadets and one officer, Captain Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. Davis went on to become the Air Force’s first African American general.
These men and their commander formed the 99th Pursuit Squadron.
The 99th fought with in the Mediterranean Theater. Three new Tuskegee squadrons joined them to form the 332nd Fighter Group. The 332nd distinguished itself in Italy, flying combat missions and escorting bombers.
Just how good were they? These pilots shot down 409 German aircraft, destroyed 950 units of ground transportation and sank a destroyer with machine guns alone — a unique accomplishment.
Their most distinctive achievement, however, was that not one friendly bomber was lost to enemy aircraft during their 2000 escort missions. No other fighter group which undertook a comparable number of missions can make the same claim.
Who needs Marvel Superheroes when you’ve got these guys!
Discover One Of Our Nation’s Proudest Chapters At The Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site
When you arrive at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Tuskegee, Alabama, you should begin your visit by watching the 28-minute film which recounts the story of the first African American military aviators in the U.S. Armed Forces.
After seeing the film tour the outside grounds, visit the museum inside hangars 1 & 2, explore the park store and soak up what is an incredibly moving experience.
These men are heroes in every sense of the word. Anyone who has the opportunity should travel to the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Tuskegee, Alabama.
CHECK OUT: 10 MUST-SEE HISTORIC SITES IN GEORGIA
Fascinating Facts About The Tuskegee Airmen
- No one actually called them the Tuskegee Airmen during World War Two. This name was coined by author Charles E. Francis in the title of his 1955 book, The Tuskegee Airmen.
- Eleanor Roosevelt visited Tuskegee. At her request, Charles A. Anderson, a pilot known as “the father of Black aviation, took her on an aerial tour. The resulting news photograph of Roosevelt and Anderson showed the world that Black Americans were fit to fly aircraft.
- The first three African American generals in the U.S. Air Force were Tuskegee Airmen. They were Benjamin O. Davis, Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr. and Lucius Theus.
- In 2007, the Tuskegee Airmen were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. This is the highest civilian award bestowed by the United States Congress. It was given to the airmen, including military and civilian support staff, for their “unique military record that inspired revolutionary reform in the armed forces.”
More Than Just Parks Visits The Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site
Historic Sites In Alabama
2. Selma To Montgomery National Historic Trail
At #2 on our list of historic sites in Alabama we have the Selma To Montgomery National Historic Trail.
As a retired history teacher one of the best parts about retirement is now I have the time to jump into my car and visit the places I spent so much time talking about for so many years.
On 25 March 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr. led thousands of nonviolent demonstrators to the steps of the capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, after a 5-day, 54-mile march from Selma, Alabama.
Those brave marchers had already made history on March 7, 1965. The day would come to be known as “Bloody Sunday.” On that day, 25-year-old activist John Lewis led over 600 marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, and into the history pages.
“Their Cause Must Be Our Cause Too”
State and local lawmen attacked them with clubs and tear gas and drove them back into Selma. John Lewis suffered a skull fracture. Lewis was one of fifty-eight people treated for injuries at the local hospital. Television coverage of “Bloody Sunday,” triggered national outrage.
On 15th, March President Lyndon Johnson addressed Congress, identifying himself with the demonstrators in Selma in a televised address:
“Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”
The Marchers Kept Marching Towards Montgomery
The day after Johnson’s speech, Selma demonstrators submitted a detailed march plan to Judge Johnson. He approved the demonstration and enjoined Alabama’s Governor George Wallace and local law enforcement from harassing or threatening marchers.
Twenty five thousand demonstrators joined Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the steps of the state capitol in Montgomery, Alabama. It was there that he said, “The end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man.”
Retrace The Footsteps Of Progress Along The Selma To Montgomery Trail
Visitors are encouraged to drive the same route taken by Dr. King and thousands of his followers. Along the way, stop off at the Selma Interpretive Center serves as the Welcome Center to the trail located at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The Interpretive Center offers an interpretive exhibit and bookstore.
Other points of historical interest while in Selma include: Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church, First Baptist Church, George Washington Carver Homes and wayside exhibits.
You can also visit the National Voting Rights Museum & Park (privately owned), Slavery & Civil War Museum, Old Depot Museum, Smitherman Museum and, of course, the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Once you get to Montgomery, there’s the Rosa Parks Museum, Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, Alabama State Capitol and the Southern Law Poverty Center. So much history, so many amazing places. So, what are you waiting for?
The #1 Historic Site In Alabama
1. Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument
More Than Just Parks #1 Historic Site In Alabama is the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument.
Come to Alabama and visit the incredible historic sites which commemorate our nation’s long march towards freedom. When you visit these places and imagine the struggles of the people who risked so much for the rights we take for granted it gives you a real understanding of their heroism.
You’ll truly appreciate the words and the courage demonstrated by thousands of African-Americans in the 1950s and 1960s who battled segregation in American society.
The Struggle For Civil Rights
The dramatic images of violent aggression against civil rights protesters in Birmingham, Alabama were vivid examples of segregation and racial injustice in America.
The Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument examines the struggle for racial equality. It encompasses roughly four city blocks in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. The National Monument includes the A.G. Gaston Motel, which served as the headquarters for the Birmingham campaign.
It was here from April through May of 1963 that the leaders of the civil rights movement, including Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., made the critical decisions about their non-violent campaign to overturn Birmingham’s segregation laws and practices.
Important Landmarks Worth Visiting
Important landmarks worth visiting include the following:
- The 16th Street Baptist Church target of September 1963 bombing that killed four young girls who were preparing for Sunday school.
- Kelly Ingram Park where protesters, including many children, were violently disrupted by police dogs and powerful water cannons. Images of the brutal police response to peaceful protesters spread across the country through the news media, shocking the conscience of the nation and the world.
- The 4th Avenue Historic District sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It was the retail and entertainment center for black-owned businesses serving African American customers during Birmingham’s extended period of forced segregation.
- Bethel Baptist Church, located six miles north of the city center, was the headquarters of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and was bombed three times – in 1956, 1958 and 1962. (Source: NPS)
List Of Historic Sites In Alabama
- Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument
- Selma To Montgomery National Historic Trail
- Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site
- Freedom Riders National Monument
- Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site
Map Of Historical Sites In Alabama
About the Folks Behind More Than Just Parks
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. My sons have spent their entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
As for me, I’m a retired lifelong educator and a proud dad of these two wonderful guys who are hopelessly obsessed with the national parks. I taught history for over a quarter of a century. Now I enjoy researching and writing articles for the More Than Just Parks website. I’m always on the hunt for topics where nature and history intersect so please feel free to share any ideas that you might have with me.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues. Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
Meet The Parks Brothers
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
We hope you’ll follow our journey through the parks and help us to keep them the incredible places that they are. If you’re interested in joining the adventure then sign up below!
To learn more about the difference between the various National Park Service designations check out our article that explains everything!
Alabama National Parks: 11 BEAUTIFUL Alabama National Parks
To Learn More Check Out These Books
- Parting the Waters : America in the King Years 1954-63 by Taylor Branch.
- Pillar of Fire : America in the King Years 1963-65 by Taylor Branch.
- At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years 1965-68 by Taylor Branch.
- The Tuskegee Airmen: The History and Legacy of America’s First Black Fighter Pilots in World War II by Charles Rivers Editors.
- The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Claborne Carson.
- Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. American: An Autobiography by Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.
- A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Three African-American Classics: Up from Slavery, The Souls of Black Folk and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois & Frederick Douglass.
- Why We Can’t Wait by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.