Times staff report
On Sunday, Aug. 28 the City of Birmingham will celebrate the 53rd anniversary of the March on Washington with its own march to support a Civil Rights National Park in the Magic City.
Starting 6 p.m. at the A.G. Gaston Motel (named a National Treasure in 2015), the march route includes civil rights landmarks the 16th Street Baptist Church, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and Kelly Ingram Park. Following the march, R&B artist Ledisi will perform in Kelly Ingram Park for a free musical performance.
“The establishment of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Historical Park in Alabama will not only protect these important places but also honor the events here and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and ensure that they are never forgotten,” Mayor William Bell.
Brent Leggs, senior field officer, Preservation Division, for the Washington D.C.-based National Trust for Historic Preservation said, the March For Birmingham event is a way for the National Trust and the city to educate citizens on the history that surrounds them and “why they should have a sense of pride in the landmarks that keeps American civil rights history.”
“This event is really about a celebration of Birmingham’s leadership role in American Civil Rights, it is to bring greater recognition for this intact collection of rare historical landmarks and cultural landscape that tells the civil rights story,” he said.
Leggs pointed out that a lot of the planning for the 1963 March on Washington took place in the spring of 1963 at the A.G. Gaston Motel. “There’s a real intersection with this local movement that went national,” he said.
Earlier this year U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell introduced legislation in the House calling for the creation of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Historical Park. Birmingham was one of the most heavily segregated cities in the United States in the 1960s and was the epicenter of the American Civil Rights Movement. Civil Rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, and Reverend Ralph Abernathy held a “war room” at the A. G. Gaston Motel, where they skillfully worked to dismantle Jim Crow. In addition, the proposed park would include other iconic civil rights landmarks like the 16th Street Baptist Church, Kelly Ingram Park, Bethel Baptist Church, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
Sewell said she was proud to introduce the bi-partisan legislation that incorporates Birmingham’s Historic Civil Rights sites into the National Park Service System. “With this designation, historic preservation efforts will be enhanced for these historic sites, greater economic revitalization will occur, and it will forever cement the pivotal role Birmingham played in the Civil Rights Movement.”
The designation will make the city eligible for grants and private dollars to fund improvements to the whole district including the 4th Avenue business district and surrounding gateway communities into the park, Bell said.
“For every dollar invested in the National Park Service, about $5 is generated for local economies,” Bell said. “That’s money that we can pour back into neighborhoods on things like street paving, tearing down abandoned houses and cutting overgrown lots,” he said.
“More than 50 years later, this critical chapter in the American civil rights story must not fade from public memory,” he added. “The establishment of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Historical Park in Alabama will not only protect these important places but also honor the events here and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and ensure that they are never forgotten.”
What: The March for Birmingham: Civil Rights National Park Now!
Where: A.G. Gaston Motel, 1514 5th Ave. N, Birmingham, AL 35203
When: Sunday, Aug. 28 at 6 p.m.
Hashtags: #NatlParkforBham and #savingplaces