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Birmingham attractions: Civil Rights Institute

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is a tribute to the leaders and supporters of America’s Civil Rights Movement. But inside the walls of the rotunda shaped building, memories of the past continue to help forge and shape the future of human rights around the world.

Located at 520 16th St. North in Birmingham, Ala., the Institute is the cornerstone of the city’s Civil Rights District. The city council designated the district to recognize sites that contributed historical significance to the racial unrest that festered for decades between African Americans and whites in Alabama’s largest city. The dissension erupted in full fledged demonstrations, bombings and death during the 1960’s and put Birmingham in the forefront of the quest for racial equality in America.

Today, visitors to the Civil Rights Institute can stroll through permanent exhibits replicating historic events from Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Ala. bus, to the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s now famous letter from the Birmingham Jail. Written while in custody for leading a racial demonstration, King refused to sanction the request of eight fellow clergymen who asked that demonstrations be put aside. Instead, church leaders begged King to seek racial equality through peaceful means, such as negotiation and various court and legal channels.

In addition to permanent exhibits, the Institute also sponsors visiting exhibits highlighting events from the tumultuous period of racial unrest in America.

Archiving documented history of the period has been a focus for the Civil Rights Institute. To enhance written narratives of the period, Institute leaders launched an oral history project to preserve the words and emotions of the participants in the events that culminated in the election of the United States’ first African-American president.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s mission is to promote civil and human rights worldwide through education. Battles for human dignity and human rights fought around the world have not been lost on the staff at the center. The riots in Beijing, China’s Tiananman Square are also highlighted in exhibits at the Institute.

The Civil Rights Institute was nearly 15-years in the making. First conceived by former Birmingham Mayor David Vann in 1977, serious consideration of the project did not begin until 1981. At that time, Vann, who was no longer mayor, and Horace Huntley co-chaired the Civil Rights Museum Study Committee established by the Birmingham City Council. A year later, the city bought land to build the center, but the building did not reach completion until a decade later when it was dedicated in November of 1992.

Today 25 percent of the Institute’s funding is provided by individual and business donations. Other ways to further the work of the Institute is sponsorship of a special event or a monetary donation or a donation of time as a volunteer.

For current opening times and ticket prices refer to the Institutes website. Tickets may be purchased in advance online.