Birmingham’s long awaited National Monument Dedication scheduled for Saturday

By Barnett Wright

The Birmingham Times

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (Chris Pruitt, Creative Commons)
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (Chris Pruitt, Creative Commons)

The National Park Service and the City of Birmingham will on Saturday host a community celebration marking the establishment of Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument.

The dedication event — which will include the National Trust for Historic Preservation — will take place from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. outside the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. The event is free and open to the public.

“It is a great honor to see the start of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument,” said Mayor William Bell. “Every milestone in this process continues to push the city forward and continues to build awareness of the Civil Rights movement overall in Birmingham.”

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell said April 15 is a “day of formal celebration” for the city and country.

“It’s about Birmingham taking its proper place in American history as ground zero for the fight for civil rights which, in my mind, has led to a global fight, an international fight, for human rights,” Sewell said. “I’ve always believed that we as Alabamians have to embrace our painful past and tell our stories.”

Sewell added, “it’s so important that we not only tell our own stories because others will tell it and they may not tell it in the same way, but also because we preserve this history for future generations.”

Sewell and Bell spent countless hours over the past several years working to establish the Civil Rights National Monument, which will add another tourist location to downtown Birmingham’s growing list of attractions, including Regions Field, the BJCC Legacy Arena, the Uptown entertainment district, and the upcoming Topgolf entertainment venue.

The Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument was established as a unit of the National Park System by Barack Obama’s Presidential Proclamation on Jan. 12, 2017 in recognition of the nationally significant events that took place in Birmingham in 1963 during the modern civil rights movement.

“We look forward to dedicating the new Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument with our partners who were central to the park’s establishment,” said Stan Austin, National Park Service Regional Director. “The park preserves and interprets an important chapter in America’s modern civil rights movement.”

More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s 417 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history.

Being designated a national monument “allows us to be a part of the National Park System which will preserve the history of Birmingham and civil rights,” Sewell said. “It’s a tribute to the foot soldiers, civil rights activists and the community of Birmingham for the pivotal role it helped play in civil rights,” Sewell said.

Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument is a new unit of the National Park System that 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.
  • The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, a cultural and educational research center opened in 1992 that presently reaches more than 140,000 annual visitors, and whose exhibits provide an overview of the struggle for civil rights in Birmingham.
  • 16th Street Baptist Church, target of September 1963 bombing that killed four young girls who were preparing for Sunday school. This act of domestic terrorism became a galvanizing force for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (16th Street Baptist Church is privately owned and supports an active congregation.)
  • 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.
  • 4th Avenue Historic District sites, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, as 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, noted for its significant association with Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. It was the historical headquarters of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights led by Shuttlesworth and was bombed three times – in 1956, 1958 and 1962. (Bethel Baptist Church is privately owned and supports an active congregation.)