Best Places To Visit Civil Rights History In The U.S.

Martin Luthor King Jr Memorial
Alves Family, Flickr

It has been half a century since the historic March on Washington, when the nation’s citizens converged on the capital calling for civil and economic rights for African Americans. To mark the 50th anniversary, we rounded up several great destinations where you can retrace the steps of the Civil Rights Movement.

Montgomery, Alabama. This city is packed with significance and there are a number of civil rights sights for history buffs to absorb. You can see the bus stop where Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat, visit the Freedom Rides Museum housed on the site of an early confrontation and witness the site of the 1965 Voting Rights March, to name but a few options.National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee. This museum, which traces the history of the Civil Rights Movement, is housed in a complex of buildings including the Lorraine Hotel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. You can even visit King’s room — 306 — which has been recreated to look exactly like it did on that fateful day.

Selma, Alabama. Visitors to this town can see the site of the Selma to Montgomery marches, including the 1965 protest that ended in a bloody clash with police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Don’t miss the National Voting Rights Museum, which recounts the story of the marches and the campaign to end voting-related discrimination.

Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, Atlanta, Georgia. This historic site recalls the life of the civil rights leader, including the home in which he grew up, a museum, the church where his father preached and his tomb.

Happy 100th: 15 Places To Celebrate Centennials In 2013

A new year isn’t just the time to look ahead, it’s also the time to look back and commemorate. 2013 marks plenty of centennials, from the birth of civil rights activists to metro lines. Here is your chance to not only explore new destinations, but also learn a little bit about the past with a list of places that all have something worth celebrating this year.

If you’re looking to help celebrate a few centennials in 2013, look no further.

Glacier Park Lodge, Montana, USA
Opening to guests on June 15, 2013, the Glacier Park Lodge has become a focal point of the park. Built on the Blackfeet Reservation, the land was purchased from the Piegan, a tribe of the Blackfeet Nation, and at its opening, hundreds of Blackfeet Indians erected teepees around the lodge. Today it features 161 rooms and can accommodate up to 500 people.

National Museum of Fine Arts, Cuba
Located in Old Havane the National Museum of Fine Arts houses both a Cuban specific collection as well as a universal one, including ancient art from Egypt, Greece and Rome. The museum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Tour de France, France
One hundred years of mountain stages, yellow jerseys and champagne finishes, Tour de France 2013 should be a momentous occasion. The centennial edition kicks off in Corsica on June 29, and in an attempt to celebrate the beauty of the country that is its namesake, the route is 100% in France, the first time in 10 years.
Washington State Parks, USA
If there ever was a time to take advantage of the outdoors in the Pacific Northwest, it’s this year. For Centennial 2013, explore the state’s extensive network of beautiful spaces, complete with yurts, rustic cabins and the occasional mountain goat.

Metro Line 8, Paris, France
Serving some of the City of Light’s most iconic stops like Invalides, Opera and Bastille, Métro Line 8 was the last line of the original 1898 Paris Metro plan. Opened on July 13, 1913 (one day before French independence day), it is the only Paris underground line to cross the Seine and the Marne above ground, via a bridge.

Grand Central Terminal, New York, USA
An iconic hub of travel, Grand Central Terminal in New York City is known for its Beaux-Arts architecture, and the pure romanticism of adventure that it induces. After almost a decade of renovation, on opening day on February 2, 1913, it welcomed over 150,000 people from all over the city. It’s no surprise that Grand Central Terminal has a year of events planned, and maybe it’s time we all took a commemorative train ride.

Soccer fields, USA
The U.S. Soccer Federation is celebrating its 100 years on the field with a variety of events throughout the year, but a special emphasis will be on the U.S. Women’s National Team’s matches, and the U.S. Men’s National Team’s campaign to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which means for soccer fans, there are plenty of places around the country to celebrate.

Konzerthaus, Vienna, Austria
Home to the Vienna Symphony, the Konzerthaus is a hub of classical music. With a goal of emphasizing both traditional and innovative music styles, it hosts several music festivals a year. In a season it hosts over 750 events, resulting in around 2,500 compositions.

Rosa Parks Museum, Montgomery, Alabama, USA
Civil rights activist Rosa Parks would have turned 100 this year, and in her honor the Rosa Parks Museum is coordinating the Rosa Parks 100th Birthday Wishes Project. They have been collecting words and inspiration from visitors and 1,000 will be chosen from the Montgomery area and 1,000 from around the state and country. Take part in the celebration on February 4, Parks’ birthday.

Bangladesh National Museum, Bangladesh
One of the largest museums in Southeast Asia, the Bangladesh National Museum started out as Dhaka Museum in 1913. Besides the standard collections of archaeology, classical art and natural history pieces that national museums are traditionally known for, it also illustrates the freedom struggle that ended in the liberation of Bangladesh.

Museo Teatrale alla Scala, Milan, Italy
Attached to the famous Scala Theater in Milan, the Museo Teatrale alla Scala holds over 100,000 works that relate to history, opera and ballet. In the hallways you’ll find musical instruments and portraits of great singers to have graced the theater. A must for any classical music or opera lover.

Edinburgh Zoo, Edinburgh, Scotland
The 82-acre Edinburgh zoo, is home to the UK’s only Giant Pandas, which are a huge hit with locals. They also have a Squirrel Monkey cam for your viewing pleasure. With over 1,000 animals, the zoo has an extensive list of activities to celebrate its 100th year.

Karachi Race Club, Pakistan
You rarely hear of people traveling to Pakistan for the horses, but the Karachi Race Club has now been attracting racing fans for a full 100 years. The biggest racecourse of Pakistan, seven to ten races are held at Karachi Race Club every Sunday.

Konzerthaus, Vienna, Austria
Home to the Vienna Symphony, the Konzerthaus is a hub of classical music. With a goal of emphasizing both traditional and innovative music styles, it hosts several music festivals a year. In a season it hosts over 750 events, resulting in around 2,500 compositions.

Line A, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Opened to the public on December 1, 1913, Line A was the first line of the the first working subway system in the southern hemisphere. Today it is used by over 200,000 people a day. Until recently, some of the line’s original La Brugeoise trains were still in use, but are now slated to be replaced by more modern day cars, and the line itself is set for reconstruction in mid-January.

[Photo credits: davidwilson1949, ChrisProtopapa, s4nt1, infrogmation, Diego3336]

The Southern Road: History And The Future Collide

If you mention Montgomery, Alabama, to anyone outside the South, you’ll probably get a response that includes Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King. People know Chattanooga, Tennessee, best for the Glenn Miller song about a choo-choo, and others because they are Civil War buffs.

These two Southern cities, rich in history, now have something crucial in common: they’ve become car towns. Along with their places in America’s past, Montgomery, and Chattanooga can now share industrial futures, one thanks to Korea‘s Hyundai, the other to Germany‘s Volkswagen.

And boy, are the movers and shakers happy to have their auto factories, probably no one more than Chattanooga’s mayor, Ron Littlefield. “It’s the Holy Grail,” says the mayor.

His office on the third floor of Chattanooga’s stately city hall is full of memorabilia related to the city’s efforts to land the VW plant that dominates the site of a former TNT plant, just south of town.On one wall, Littlefield shows off a framed copy of the lyrics to Chattanooga Choo-Choo, loosely translated into German. Another wall boasts the front page of the Chattanooga Times Free Press on the day the city landed the plant. Chattanooga has enthusiastically embraced Volkswagen’s German home base, Wolfsburg, and Littlefield hands out medallions to visitors bearing both cities’ seals.

For Chattanooga, the VW plant is icing on the cupcake for a city that’s been fighting to remake itself since the 1970s, when it was said to have the dirtiest air in the United States. Here, VW isn’t the lynchpin to revival; the revival was what clinched the factory.

I’d only driven through Chattanooga on the way to points farther south, and by doing so, I missed a lot. Even if you don’t arrange a tour of the VW plant, there is plenty here to see, starting with the Aquarium downtown, which is modeled after the one in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Chattanooga has a stunning art museum, beautifully restored downtown buildings, one of the country’s first parking garages built specifically as a parking garage, new schools, and a thriving food scene. In two days, I dined at St. Johns, which could easily compete in New Orleans, visited one of the city’s daily farmers markets, and paid four (!) visits to Niedlow’s Bakery, where I sampled probably the best chocolate croissant I’ve ever eaten.

But those things wouldn’t necessarily lift Chattanooga above other similar sized Southern cities. VW, however, does. “Volkswagen is close to iconic for people my age,” says the mayor, who was born in 1953. The Beetle is “my generation’s vehicle.”

He admits his city “stole ideas and learned from mistakes” made by other places, as it moved along its reinvention path. Downtown came first, along with white-collar jobs at places like Krystal, the fast food chain whose headquarters is there, and Blue Cross Blue Shield, which has a huge office building. “What was lacking was industrial jobs,” Littlefield says.

Chattanooga watched as cities all over the South landed their car plants. It tried particularly hard to get the Toyota plant that went to Tupelo, Mississippi, but lost it because too much leaked out about the negotiations. Littlefield was at the Detroit Auto Show when he heard VW might be searching for a plant site.

The city quickly put together a proposal only to hear back that VW wasn’t impressed with the way the proposed location looked. “We like Chattanooga, but we can’t tell much about this site,” he recalled. The city, county and state jumped into action, clearing away trees and debris (there was even a webcam showing the progress) and a month later, the location was ready.

Littlefield knows he’s hit the “biggest industrial home run in the history of Chattanooga.” But he doesn’t just want to be on a list of the South’s car cities. “Wouldn’t it be great to be on the short list of progressive cities?” he says.

Progressive and Montgomery have probably never been used in any historian’s sentence.
Montgomery is a city with kind of a spooky history, to those of us from up North. Our view of it is formed in old newsreels and classes on African-American history, and the perception we get isn’t good.

I was reminded of that when I visited the Rosa Parks Museum, where her decision to keep her bus seat is depicted through a dramatic hologram reenactment. I took a drive by King’s Dexter Avenue church, which is directly across from the state capital, where George Wallace served when he vowed to fight school integration.

Nobody in Montgomery ducks this history – in fact, civil rights sites are well labeled for visitors. But for Randy George, the head of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, Hyundai gives him something else to talk about and most important, something to sell to prospective businesses.

“It redefines largely who we are,” George says of the Hyundai plant that sits just south of the city. “The dichotomy is really a remarkable thing. It proves that we have come a long way.”

Beyond the civil rights movement, George thinks the presence of Hyundai, and the other car companies and auto suppliers who’ve set up in the South are changing the perception of the South for the nation. “Our time’s come,” he says, simply.

Micheline Maynard is a writer and author based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She previously ran the public media project Changing Gears, and was Detroit bureau chief for the New York Times.

The Southern Road: Traveling Through The New Industrial America

If you’re not from the American South, you probably have an image of it in your head. It might have squealing pickup trucks and Daisy Dukes. Or hoop skirts and cotton plantations from “Gone With The Wind.” Maybe the streetcars of New Orleans, or the twang of Paula Deen.

What if I told you that the American South has become a land of opportunity, where people no longer have to leave home to find their fortunes? What if you knew that more than a third of all the cars sold in the United States are made there? And that its population is no longer just white, black, and Hispanic, but European and Asian?

In August, I traveled 4,000 miles over two weeks across the New Industrial South. I plotted a road trip that took me to all the car and truck plants between Mississippi and South Carolina that have been built in the past two decades. I talked to autoworkers and managers, chefs and mayors, university officials and farmers, wait staff and retirees.

And I came away thinking that people up north have no idea what’s happened below the Mason Dixon line. Thanks to the auto industry, and everything that came with it, the South is full of cities where there’s been growth, where people buy new cars and homes, and send their kids to new schools and to play on new skate parks. Towns have new city halls. Instead of selling the past, economic developers are salivating over a new future.

If you only visit one of these places, say, Birmingham, Alabama, you see some of this, but not all of it. Driving the entire region, however, fills in the picture in a complete way.

Over the next weeks, we’ll be exploring the impact of the South’s new industry in “The Southern Road: Traveling Through The New Industrial South.” We’ll have lots of tips to help you plan your own southern road trip.

Most of all, we’ll provide impressions. And this was my main one.

Traveling the Southern Road made me think this is what it must have been like in Detroit, and Cleveland, and Gary, Indiana, and Pittsburgh for our parents and grandparents. While those cities are striving to write their next chapters, you can go see the story of the new American economy playing out right now, all across the South.

%Gallery-164205%The contrasts are striking, beginning with terrain. My trip began in my hometown, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Once I passed Lexington, Kentucky, en route to Greenville, South Carolina, I found myself driving around sweeping curves and up and down hills. As I crossed Tennessee and North Carolina, I was in mountains. And the geography stayed interesting as the miles clicked up, reminded me quite a bit of New England, only lush and verdant in a different way, with live oaks, moss and pines.

The variety was staggering. If you prefer to stay in luxury hotels and dine at some of the country’s top-rated restaurants, you can do that in Chattanooga, Tennessee, now the home of Volkswagen’s new plant. Or in Birmingham, Alabama, which has Mercedes-Benz just west of town and Honda within an hour’s drive to the east. Downtown Greenville, South Carolina, bustles at night, in no small part due to the BMW plant right by the airport.

Do you want to couple history with your auto town visit? Then head for Montgomery, Alabama. That’s where Hyundai built its first American factory, only 10 minutes from the spot where Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat. Near Tupelo, Mississippi, there’s a brand new Toyota factory a few exits down from Elvis Presley’s birthplace and the hardware store where he bought his first guitar.

Perhaps you’d like to see what happens to a small southern town when a car plant becomes its neighbor. Canton, Mississippi, fits that bill. So do Lincoln, Alabama, and West Point, Georgia. These towns also have gorgeous lakes and recreational areas only a stone’s throw away.

Many of the plants are open for tours, and the most elaborate, like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and VW, have visitor centers where you can drop in even if you’re not going to see how the cars are built. Several of the plants have gift shops, where you can buy golf balls, shot glasses, T-shirts and picnic baskets. (Too bad Kia’s gift shop isn’t open to the public because it had the cutest souvenirs – the toy hamster and sock monkey that have appeared in its ads.)

Other plants don’t allow the public to visit, but even if you don’t set foot in one of the factories, it’s easy to spot what happens when one of these big auto plants comes to town.

The first thing you might notice is new highway exits, new overpasses and new roads around the plants. They’re often part of the incentives that the states paid to land these factories.

The next thing to look for is development. Fast food restaurants and new hotels are the first signs of growth. But you’ll also see billboards for new subdivisions, and you’ll notice even more in the way of smaller factories – these have been opened by the suppliers to these big car companies. Often, they’re set next to the freeway a few miles down, because they often sell parts to more than one automaker.

What I found on the Southern Road is that the impact of these factories goes a lot deeper than what you can see on the surface. When you have newcomers from Germany and Japan and Korea, their culture comes with them.

That’s why you’ll find the makings for a Japanese breakfast, like miso soup and steamed rice, on the breakfast buffet at the Lexington, Kentucky, Residence Inn. That’s why you can now rent a loft apartment for business entertaining at Soby’s, the popular restaurant in Greenville – because BMW and other European companies wanted a private place for a small group.

To be sure, the South hasn’t become one big Manhattan, and no one would mistake any of these cities for Los Angeles. Southern culture is still widely apparent, from men automatically holding open doors for women, to gas station lunch counters and lots of fast driving. Divert from your Mapquest directions, and you’ll find long stretches of farmland and dusty roads.

But you can stop for Starbuck’s on the way to your plant tour. And you might even wonder, “What would it be like to live here?”

Micheline Maynard is a writer and author based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She previously ran the public media project Changing Gears, and was Detroit bureau chief for the New York Times.

Setting Up Your Trip:

These are some of the car companies that have public tours or facilities for visitors.

BMW Zentrum, Greer S.C. (plant tours, customer delivery center, and more). Open Monday-Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Call 1-888-TOUR-BMW or www.bmwzentrum.com

Mercedes-Benz Visitor Center, Vance, AL (museum and plant tours). Museum open daily, tours given Tuesday-Thursday. Call 888-286-8762 or www.mbusi.com

Volkswagen, Chattanooga, AL. (gift shop and tour) Eight tours a week, Tuesday through Friday at 9 a.m. and 1:30 pm. Inquiries: tours@vw.com

Hyundai, Montgomery, AL (visitors center and tour). Tours given Monday, Wednesday, Friday, also a Thursday evening tour. Call 334-387-8019 or www.hmmausa.com

Nissan, Canton, MS (gift shop and plant tour) Tours by reservation. Call 601-855-TOUR.

Honda, Lincoln, AL (plant tour) Tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. By reservation at www.hondaalabama.com/