Alabama is the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, founded in this state in the mid 20th century. Many opportunities are available to visitors to explore the history of a movement that not only redefined this state and the United States of America, but also changed the world forever. Visit American Civil War battlefields as well as sites and museums than honour Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. Going further back in time, there is in Alabama a near complete record of southeastern prehistory with many well preserved archaeological sites easily accessible to all. As are locations that memorialise the conflicts between indigenous communities and European settles. Alabama was the 22nd state to be admitted to the Union, as of 14 December 1819.
The city of Mobile is home to Battleship Memorial Park where a number of museum ships are docked, including the USS Alabama, which served during World War II.
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The Bottle Creek Indian Mounds are a group of at least 18 prehistoric tumuli standing on Mound Island in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. Communities living in this region created the mounds between the 13th and 16th centuries. Today, Mound Island is only accessible by boat. Guided tours departing from Stockton are available and are recommended due to the threat posed by the wild animals living in the delta swamps.
Martin Luther King Jr was the foremost figure in the African American Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 1960s. The Dexter Parsonage Museum in Montgomery is the home in which he lived between 1954 – 1960. Erected in 1912, the parsonage housed successive parsons of the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church from 1920 through to 1992. The King-Johns Garden for Reflection is behind the building.
The Florence Indian Mound was built between 100 and 500 CE, during the Woodland Period of North American prehistory. Additions in the 13th and 15th centuries were carried out by the Mississippian Culture. An onsite museum allows visitors the opportunity to learn more about these ancient communities. The mound remains an important place for various contemporary Native communities living in Alabama.
Fort Charlotte in Mobile traces its origins to when this part of North America was a French colony. During the early 18th century, a wooden fortification was erected then replaced by a stone fort in 1723. The fort remained active until 1820, when it was taken by U.S. forces after Alabama was absorbed into the Union. In 1976 a partial reconstruction of the fort opened, since when it has operated as a heritage attraction.
Located within the eponymous town, Fort Mitchell was erected in 1813 when the U.S. Army was engaged in the Creek War. Throughout the 19th century the fort bore witness to the tense relationship between the Creek Nation and U.S. settlers. Excavations in the early 1970s revealed its original layout, enabling a reconstruction, and a popular local heritage attraction hosting events throughout the year.
The Fort Payne Cabin Historic Site marks an important point along the Trail of Tears, marking the U.S. Army forcibly relocation of indigenous communities. In 1837 the army arrived and seized a pre-existing cabin for use within their newly-built fort, at which they based many of the Cherokee whom they were forcibly moving. Ruins of the cabin still stand, a testament to the suffering that took place here.
Indian Mound Park, sometimes called Indian Shell Mound Park, can be found on Dauphin Island. At least six shell middens were created in prehistory by the dumping of large numbers of shells. These have been dated to between the 12th and 15th centuries, during the Mississippian Period. Archaeologists excavated the mounds in the 1940s and the 1900s, revealing more about their story.
The Moundville Archaeological Site is home to one of the most important prehistoric monuments in Alabama. Twenty-nine platform mounds stand at the site, in what was a major political and ceremonial center from the 11th to the 16th century. An onsite museum displays a range of artefacts recovered from excavations and explains more about the ancient Mississippian communities who once lived here.
The Russell Cave National Monument near Bridgeport is a natural cave, which was used by local communities at various points throughout the past. The oldest evidence dates from around 6500 BCE, the Archaic Period, and it was occupied again in the Woodland and Mississippian periods. The site is now a heritage attraction, with a purpose-built visitor’s center explaining the significance of the site throughout history.
Anyone interested in industrial heritage should check out the Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark in Birmingham. Between 1882 and 1971 it the blast furnaces here produced pig-iron. Since then, it has operated as a heritage attraction devoted to teaching visitors more about the role of industry in the 19th and 20th centuries. Various events take place here throughout the year, including music festivals and haunted Halloween celebrations.
The Alabama Constitution Village in Huntsville is an open-air museum bringing together a range of historic buildings that help to give visitors a better appreciation for life in the Yellowhammer State during the 19th century. Re-enactors in period costume contribute to the immersive living history experience, which seeks to recreate Huntsville as it appeared in 1819. The village is part of the Earlyworks Museum Complex alongside the Huntsville Depot and EarlyWorks Children’s History Museum.
The Alabama Iron and Steel Museum in McCalla stands within the Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park. The museum opened in 1981, since when it has showcased the heritage of iron and steel working in this area. Displays include a range of 19th century machines and tools. Its focus is on the nearby Roupes Valley Ironworks, which were used as a bloomery in the 1830s and then as charcoal blast furnaces during the American Civil War.
Opened to the public in 1993, the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in Birmingham occupies the Carver Theatre, a cinema building from the 1930s. The museum showcases the history of jazz, from its origins through to its popularisation and infiltration of the popular music mainstream in recent times. As well as marking and celebrating the history of jazz, the museum is involved in promoting it as a living musical style.
The Aldrich Coal Mine Museum in Montevallo explores the history of coal mining in Alabama and to the history of Aldrich. The museum occupies the commissary of the Montevallo Mine Company, and retains several of the building’s original features. Displays include various facets of the town’s heritage: its prison, stores, churches, and coal mine. The museum also boasts Alabama’s only monument to coal miners.
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute covers the history of the African American Civil Rights Movement. Opened in 1992, it stands in an area of Birmingham referred to as the ‘Civil Rights District’ due to the important role many buildings in the area played in the movement. Various temporary exhibitions supplement a series of permanent displays. The institute awards the annual Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award.
Railway enthusiasts who find themselves in Alabama should check out the Bridgeport Depot Museum, operated by the Bridgeport Area Historical Association. This small museum collects together a range of railway memorabilia and occupies the town’s fourth railroad depot, opened in 1917. The museum also displays material related to the history of the town, including the lives of Native American communities in the surrounding area and the impact of the Civil War.
George Washington Carver was an agricultural scientist and inventor who has long been regarded as one of the foremost African Americans of his generation. The George Washington Carver Museum at Tuskegee stands in the grounds of the Tuskegee University, the agricultural college where Washington taught. The museum explores both Carver’s life and his impact on agriculture in the United States. Several displays also examine Booker T. Washington, the educator who ran Tuskegee University.
The Museum of Alabama in Montgomery focuses on the heritage of this state from prehistory right through to the present day. Displays focus in on the indigenous communities of the area, the arrival of European American colonists, the Confederate secession and the Civil War, and on to the Reconstruction and Civil Rights Movements. As well as featuring a range of artefacts, photographs, and documents, the museum includes interactive displays.
Old Alabama Town in Montgomery brings together a range of 19th and early 20th century buildings for their long-term preservation. The open-air museum opened in 1971 and has grown since that time. Its collection includes a tavern, a church, a school, a grocery store, and a range of different domestic residences. Walking through these structures, visitors can imagine what life was like for Alabamians in times gone by.
Rosa Parks is one of the most famous names of the African American civil rights struggle – her refusal to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955–56. The Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery focuses on Parks and the boycott, displaying a range of artefacts associated with that event. The museum’s collection includes Parks’ arrest record and a preserved bus from the time.