Last summer, my wife and I began teaching our kids about civil rights. Part of that education involved taking them on a tour of civil rights historical sites in the South. On our way through Alabama, we stopped in Selma at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where on March 7, 1965, about 500 black marchers in search of voting rights were violently beaten by police officers. The day became known as Bloody Sunday. While at the bridge, we had the privilege of meeting one of the marchers, 90-year-old George Sallie. On Bloody Sunday, a police officer hit Mr. Sallie in the forehead with a table leg, used like a nightstick. Mr. Sallie had fought in the Korean War and returned home without any scars only to receive a large one in the middle of his forehead in his own country for simply wanting the right to vote.
Every day for 50 years, Mr. Sallie returned to the place where he was hit to pray for forgiveness for the officer who struck him and the other officers who used violence to suppress his rights. I don’t know if I’ve ever met a more heroic figure in every sense of the word than George Sallie of Selma, AL. The civil rights movement is filled with stories of people who showed extraordinary courage in the fight for freedom, just like Mr. Sallie. It’s important for our kids to learn these stories, to visit the sites where they took place, and to be inspired by them. Doing so will help them confront our sinful past when it comes to race in America and how we relate to one another today. Here are 7 powerful civil rights sites your kids need to experience.
1. National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel (Memphis, TN)
This site, located where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, provides an overview of the entire civil rights movement. It has room upon room filled with scenery that will transport your kids back in time and spark their interest in the civil rights stories that changed history.
2. Rosa Parks Museum (Montgomery, AL)
This museum outlines the events that led up to Rosa Parks’s courageous “no.” Your kids will learn she wasn’t the first to courageously say “no” and they’ll learn why the Montgomery bus boycott was important to the cause of freedom and equality.
3. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (Washington, DC)
If you are going to Washington DC, this site is a must. It documents a number of Dr. King’s greatest statements. You can use each quote as a conversation starter. Invite your kids to discuss Dr. King’s words, why they are important, and the power of his tactic of non-violence.
4. Edmund Pettus Bridge (Selma, AL)
If he is in good health, you may find George Sallie at the bridge praying. Talking to him was the highlight of my year. At the base of the bridge, there is a park with memorials to leaders of the movement around Selma. I would suggest walking your kids across the bridge and having them imagine what the marchers must have felt when they saw the crowd of troopers in front of them. Ask them what they think they would have done. Here is a video from that day.
5. Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church (Montgomery, AL)
This was Dr. King’s church. You and your kids will see where he delivered many of his messages of hope and justice. You also can tour his home and see where he felt God call him to stand for righteousness and justice after he received a death threat.
6. Freedom Riders Museum (Montgomery, AL)
When I first walked in, I couldn’t believe I paid $12 a person for a one-room museum. However, the visit turned out to be worth every penny. The museum guides are knowledgeable and engaging. Your kids will have the chance to ask a lot of questions about the Freedom Riders and about what segregation looked like.
7. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice (Montgomery, AL)
You’ll have to decide whether your children are mature enough to handle this memorial. It is dedicated to the people of color who were terrorized by lynching and humiliated through slavery, segregation, and Jim Crow. We decided our kids were too young for this one when we took our civil rights tour. But we will visit it as soon as they are old enough.
Sound off: There are many more civil rights sites than the ones on this list. What other civil rights sites do you believe would be important for our kids to experience?
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “If you were a different race, do you think life would look different? If so, how?”