A Civil Rights RV Road Trip: Teaching Children Through Travel 1032

Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, GA. Image by Karen Akpan.

In the United States, many people have a difficult time teaching their kids about civil rights. There are a few different ways to do this, but one of the best ways is to spend time in an area that had a huge impact on the civil rights era.

A Civil Rights RV Road Trip is a fantastic way to visit several key places where world-changing events happened. Recent events and protests have renewed interest in the historic civil rights movement, making a Civil Rights RV trip a timely and important opportunity to teach children.

As a Black woman raising a Black child, teaching him about the Civil Rights movement is so important to me. We spent about a month in the south, learning everything we could about the Civil Rights Movement and it was heart-wrenching, but also amazing.

Teaching Kids About The Civil Rights Movement

We still have a long way to go before we can say we live in a society that is free of inequality and racism. However, one way to help close the gap is to take your kids on an educational trip that includes a Civil Rights RV Itinerary.

Before this trip, make sure to talk to your kids about the Civil Rights Movement. Engage their critical thinking skills prior by getting them books and watching age-appropriate videos. This will help make the trip more meaningful for them.

The Civil Rights Trail

The U.S. Civil Rights Trail links more than 100 locations across 15 states and DC. The sites include museums and parks memorializing many important events. Clearly, to cover all 15 States and locations would make for a very long road trip. We’ve focused here on 3 States that you can comfortably visit in 10-14 days, beginning with the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Georgia, passing through Alabama, and ending in Memphis, where he was assassinated.

Civil Rights History in Atlanta, Georgia

Welcome to Georgia
Welcome to Georgia. Image by Karen Akpan.

Atlanta has lots of things to do related to the civil rights movement. It is also the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a perfect spot to begin a civil rights trip. The city has many sites that are important to the history of civil rights, including the original Ebenezer Baptist Church, which was where King preached his first sermon.

Birth Home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Make sure you arrive early if you want to see the birth home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, where King spent the first 12 years of his life. Entry is on a first-come, first-served basis. It’s open daily from 10 am to 4 pm.

The Ebenezer Baptist Church

The Ebenezer church continues to work today as a thriving ministry. This church and its teachings played a fundamental role in helping the young Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. form his values.

The King Center

Learn all about the life and teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the King Center. They have a changing program of events too, so check ahead for what’s on before you plan your trip.

Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park (450 Auburn Avenue Northeast, Atlanta)

The 35-acre MLK Jr. National Historic Park includes several key historical buildings, including Dr. King’s childhood home, the Ebenezer Baptist Church and the King Center (also called the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change). King and his wife are both buried here.

Center for Civil and Human Rights

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The Atlanta Center for Civil and Human Rights is an excellent overview of many of the main moments of the movement. It also strives to highlight ongoing human rights issues around the world, not just in the U.S. Get your kids interested prior to visiting the Center by taking a virtual tour. Allow a couple of hours to fully appreciate the various exhibitions when you eventually visit the center.

Where To Camp In Atlanta

Stone Mountain Park has a well-serviced RV campsite with a variety of amenities and space for over 400 RVs. The site itself covers 3200 acres of natural beauty, as well as a number of child-friendly activities, such as a swimming pool, ropes course, volleyball court and more.

Other Campgrounds Near Atlanta, GA:

Civil Rights Movement History in Alabama

There are two main civil rights cities in Alabama: Birmingham and Montgomery. Birmingham was the center of some of the most horrific atrocities and is one of the key locations for understanding this difficult time in history. Referred to as the birthplace of the civil rights movement, Alabama’s capital, Montgomery, clearly played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement.

There are many places to take your kids here, where they can learn about the third march for voting rights from Selma, Rosa Parks’ arrest, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ‘s church, the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church.

Birmingham, Alabama

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to learn more about the strong opposition and violence that civil rights leaders faced and how these events impacted on our country today. The exhibits in this modern museum include the actual jail cell door behind which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his famous ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail’, and a replica Freedom Riders bus. Check the Institute’s website for their changing program of annual celebrations to commemorate key historical dates, such as Black History Month and Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

civil rights freedom riders
Image by Karen Akpan.

Bethel Baptist Church, Birmingham

This church was bombed on three separate occasions. From 1956 to 1961 it was the headquarters for the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. The Bethel Baptist Church played a fundamental role in the 1961 Freedom Ride which led to the US Supreme Court decision to desegregate public transport.

16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham

Book a tour at the 16th Street Baptist church, a still-active church and learn more about its role and tragic past in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1963, a bomb killed four little girls who were at Sunday School in the church. More than 20 people were also badly injured in the bombing. Later that day, two black men were murdered in two separate incidents in the city, forcing the city’s white leaders to face the terrible racism in Birmingham. Allow a good hour for your tour of the church.

Kelly Ingram Park, Birmingham

Some kids learn best through visual experiences. If your children need a break from reading about Birmingham’s history, head over to Kelly Ingram Park. You’ll find emotionally-moving, contemporary sculptures there that depict some of Birmingham’s part in the Civil Rights Movement.

Take a virtual tour of the park here.

Where to Camp in Birmingham, Alabama

The Hoover Met Complex offers excellent RV facilities in an urban setting and is less than 20 minutes drive from town. It has wifi and electricity – two things that are pretty important when you’re traveling with your kids. There are plenty of restaurants and shopping opportunities right by the park, so after a busy day touring historic sites, you can quickly be back at base and out to eat.

Other Campgrounds Near Birmingham, AL:

Montgomery, Alabama

Alabama State Capital, Montgomery

Welcome to Selma sign
Welcome to Selma sign. Image by Karen Akpan.

In 1965, the third Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights ended at the steps of this historic building. 25,000 people congregated to hear “How Long, Not Long”, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech on voting rights. The Alabama State Capitol building is now open Monday to Friday and includes a museum of State history and politics.

Civil Rights Memorial and Center, Montgomery

Montgomery Alabama Civil Rights Memorial Center.
Montgomery Alabama Civil Rights Memorial Center. Image by the Karen Akpan.

Adjacent to the Civil Rights Memorial Center is the memorial itself, a smooth, circular, black granite surface, engraved with the names of the people who died in the civil rights struggle from 1954 to 1968. In the Civil Rights Memorial Center, there are four galleries with exhibits about the civil rights movement from 1954-1968, the stories of the martyrs whose names are etched on the memorial, and contemporary social justice issues.

The Rosa Parks Museum, Montgomery

The Rosa Parks museum is located at the site where Rosa Parks was arrested for defiantly refusing to give up her seat to a white person when the bus filled up. In the museum, you can learn about Rosa Parks story and the part her bravery played in the Civil Rights Movement. After watching the initial videos, you’re free to explore the exhibitions in your own time, learning how the Montgomery Bus Boycott that followed Mrs. Parks’ arrest went on for 13 long months. Exhibitions include a 1950s era restored public transport bus, Rosa Park’s original fingerprint arrest record, as well as a program of changing educational events. Kids will probably be impressed by the ‘time-machine’ exhibit which involves stepping inside a (fixed) bus that shakes as you travel ‘through time’, exploring the history of segregation.

Holt Street Memorial Baptist Church, Montgomery

Following Rosa Park’s arrest, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech to a mass meeting of 5000 people at this church. This sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which put an end to public transportation segregation one year later. The church is still an active church with almost-daily services – check the website for the program.

Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, Montgomery

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This still-active church is where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. worked as pastor from 1954 to 1960. It’s also one of the sites of meetings to organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Check their website for tour information to visit in person. They are also working on a virtual tour.

The Freedom Rides Museum, Montgomery

Hands uplifted for freedom & Justice
Image by Karen Akpan.

This small museum is on the site of the 1961 attack on the Freedom Riders, a group of young civil rights activists – men and women, black and white – who demonstrated against segregation on public transport. The original Montgomery Greyhound bus station has been restored to how it looked back in 1961.

The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, Montgomery

The Legacy Museum is a state-of-the-art new museum that charts the comprehensive history of slavery in the U.S. It is situated on a former slave auction site. Nearby was the railway station through which thousands of enslaved people were trafficked.

Through cutting-edge technology, art installations, and interactive exhibitions, the museum delivers compelling narratives about this historical period.

Where To Camp In Montgomery

For the closest place to town, the Montgomery Marina RV resort has limited amenities but the parking spots are flat, it’s clean and quiet, it has good wifi and full hookups. The Gunter Hill Campground is further out of town but in a natural beauty spot by Alabama River. It has more facilities, as well as sporting activities such as fishing, basketball, and a kid’s playground.

Other Montgomery Campgrounds:

Civil Rights Sites in Memphis, Tennessee

Many of the civil rights sites in Memphis are centered around the events related to city sanitation workers who went on strike protesting about working conditions in the late 1960s.

Beale Street Historic District

In the first half of the twentieth century, Beale Street was known for Blues Music. Famous musicians including Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Louis Armstrong all played here. In the late sixties, when Memphis city sanitation workers decided to go on strike, protesting about their dreadful working conditions, they marched down Beale Street. Take a family-friendly tour of the district which is now a revitalized and vibrant space, with shops, restaurants, and clubs.

For historical photographs, head to the Withers Collection, a gallery and museum of Dr. Ernest C. Withers’ photographs. Withers documented not only the Civil Rights Movement in his photos but also local culture, sports, music, and everyday life.

Mason Temple Church Of God In Christ

In 1968, thousands of people congregated to listen to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was speaking in support of the Memphis sanitation workers, arguing for economic justice through nonviolent protests. He gave what is now referred to as the “Mountaintop Speech,” at the Mason Temple Church of God in Christ. It was to be his last.

The National Civil Rights Museum, The Lorraine Hotel

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The National Civil Rights Museum is a collection of museums and historic sites in Memphis that were important in the fight for civil rights. The Lorraine Hotel is the spot where, the day after giving his ‘Mountaintop Speech,” on April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Allow yourselves an hour and a half to explore the museum and its exhibitions. They follow in chronological order the key historical moments starting with slavery through to 1968.

In ‘King’s Last Hours’ visitors can see Room 306 where King spent the last hours of his life before being fatally shot on the balcony outside his room.

Where To Camp In Memphis

A fitting place to end a Civil Rights RV trip, the T.O. Fuller State Park was the first state park that was open to African Americans east of the Mississippi River. It was named in honor of Dr. Thomas O. Fuller, an African-American civic leader who dedicated his life to empowering and educating African Americans. It is a place of natural beauty, with hiking trails, playgrounds, a swimming pool, and sports courts. It also has an excavated archaeological site of a pre-historic village with a modern museum. The campground has electric and water hook-ups and individual picnic areas. It also has full restroom, shower, and laundry facilities.

Other Memphis Campgrounds:

Overall Thoughts On A Civil Rights RV Road Trip With Kids

It’s impossible to do justice to such an important period of human history by just reading about it. So one of the best ways to teach your children is by visiting the places where these significant events took place. By planning ahead and visiting key sites in these 3 States, you can effectively introduce kids to the Civil Rights Movement and help them understand how and why these world-changing events happened.

My son was eight years old when we took this trip and he learned so much! It was age-appropriate, although some things were hard to handle and we both felt very sad during several parts of the trip. However, I still recommend it!

You don’t have to visit every site, or even visit all the states listed here, however, I hope this helps guide you as you plan your trip.

If you’re not ready to buy an RV, try renting an RV to make the trip and experience the thrill of roadschooling.

Read more about roadschooling below:

Karen created The Mom Trotter to share budget travel tips, homeschooling life, parenting and to connect with families following the same path as her. She and her family are traveling the country full-time in an RV.
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