Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail
- DesignationAll-American Road (1996)
- Intrinsic QualitiesHistoric, Natural
- Length54 miles
For centuries, Selma was a city where the rules of race were enforced by humiliation and fear. But Selma gave birth to one of the greatest grassroots campaigns in history--the voting rights movement. The Dallas County Voters League was formed in the 1920s by Samuel and Amelia Boynton, local extension agents. The DCVL soon became inactive. The organization was revived in the 1930s with C. J. Adams as its president/NAACP. First Baptist Church was the first church to open its doors to members of DCVL/NAACP as well as to the young activists from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Story of the Byway
The Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail was established by Congress in 1996 to commemorate the events, people, and route of the 1965 Voting Rights March in Alabama. The march route is a component of the National Trail System, and is administered by the National Park Service. The route is also designated as a National Scenic Byway/All-American Road.
The center of the Selma campaign was the George Washington Carver Neighborhood, a large public housing project constructed for African Americans after World War II. Hundreds of SNCC and SCLC members and other organizers stayed with neighborhood families, meetings were held in the churches and march began there. It was named for the famous African American botanist, inventor, and professor best known for the myriad uses he found for peanuts.
The 54-mile trail follows the historic march by beginning at the Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma and crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. As they crossed the bridge, the nonviolent marches were stopped and beaten by law enforcement officers in what came to be known as “Bloody Sunday” on March 7, 1965. Outraged protesters from around the country joined the marchers for a subsequent five-day march that began in Selma on March 21, 1965, this time with state and federal law enforcement protection.
The marchers traveled along U.S. Highway 80 in Dallas County, continued through Lowndes County and Montgomery County, and ended at the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organized the logistics for the march, including providing food, water, sanitation, and other services for the marchers who camped out along the way. Discover the four campsites along U.S. Route 80 as you travel along the byway: the David Hall Farm; the Rosie Steele Property; the Robert Gardner Fam; and the City of St Jude. 25,000 marchers concluded the historic march in Montgomery on March 25th, with many notable speakers addressing the crowd at a concluding rally near the capitol building; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave one of his most famous speeches at the rally. The Voting Rights Act was signed on August 6th, 1965.
For centuries, Selma was a city where the rules of race were enforced by humiliation and fear. But Selma gave birth to one of the greatest grassroots campaigns in history--the voting rights movement. The Dallas County Voters League was formed in the 1920s by Samuel and Amelia Boynton, local agricultural extension agents. The DCVL soon became inactive. The organization was revived in the 1930s with C. J. Adams as its president/ NAACP. First Baptist Church was the first church to open its doors to members of DCVL/NAACP as well as to the young activists from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. From 1960-1965, under the leadership of Reverend M. C. Cleveland, Jr. First Baptist Church was the frequent site of mass meetings and nonviolence training sessions. These rallies led to the rallies and demonstrations that culminated in the historic march to Montgomery, ultimately leading to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Selma to Montgomery Historic Trail Study was Commissioned by The Black Heritage Council of the Alabama Historical Commission under the leadership of Louretta C. Wimberly, Chairperson, June 23, 1995.
Start in the city of Selma, AL at the junction of Jeff Davis Ave. and Martin Luther King St. GPS point (32.414868,-87.017804). Drive southeast on Martin Luther King St. to Alabama Ave. Drive southwest on Alabama Ave. to US Hwy. 80/Broad St. Cross Edmund Pettus Bridge at Broad St. and Water Avenue. Drive southeast on US Hwy. 80/Broad St. through Selmont, Benton, Lowndesboro, and Mt. Sinai to US Hwy 31/AL-42 north of Hope Hull, AL. Turn north on US Hwy 31/AL-42 toward Montgomery. Continue on US Hwy 31/AL-42 which changes to Mobile Hwy. Drive northeast on Mobile Hwy. to W. Fairview Ave. Drive east on W. Fairview Ave. to Oak St. Drive north on Oak St. to W. Jeff Davis Ave. Drive east on W. Jeff Davis Ave. to S. Holt St. Drive north on S. Holt St. to Day St. Drive east on Day St. to Mobile St. Drive northeast on Mobile St. to Goldthwaite St. Drive north on Goldthwaite St. to Montgomery St. Drive northeast on Montgomery St. to Court Square/S. Court St. Drive southwest on Court Square/S. Court St. to Dexter Ave. Drive east on Dexter Ave. to Alabama State Capitol.
Points of Interest
Selma Interpretive Center
The Selma Interpretive Center serves as a welcome center for the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail and is located at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Visitors can explore exhibits and a bookstore dedicated to telling the story of the movement.
Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, Montgomery
This red-brick church, adjacent to the State Capitol, is where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was propelled into the national spotlight as the leader of the Civil Rights Movement. Sitting in the midst of the only church where he served as full time pastor (1954-1960), you’ll find yourself humbled as you listen to knowledgeable guides share stories about the inspirational young minister from Atlanta and the strategic planning behind the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott. A mural in the basement of the church depicts scenes of Dr. King’s journey from Montgomery, where he spearheaded the boycott, to Memphis, where he ultimately lost his life on April 4, 1968.
First Baptist Church, Montgomery
First Baptist Church is best remembered for its role in the Civil Rights Movement during the pastorate of the Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy (1952-1961). The church and the parsonage where Abernathy lived were bombed in 1957. On May 21, 1961, the building was besieged for 15 hours by 3,000 whites who threatened to burn it with some 1500 worshipers and activists inside, including Rev. Abernathy, Rev. King, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, and Freedom Riders who had been riding buses throughout the South to protest segregation in interstate bus terminals.
Freedom Rides Museum - in the building which was until 1995 the Montgomery Greyhound Bus Statio
In 1961 groups of volunteers made history by challenging the practice of segregated travel through the South. They called themselves Freedom Riders as they crossed racial barriers in depots and onboard buses. The 1961 Freedom Riders did not begin or end their journey in Montgomery, Alabama, but their arrival changed the city and our nation. Freedom Riders, black and white, male and female, none of them older than 22, stepped off a bus at the Montgomery Greyhound Station on May 20, 1961. They were prepared to meet mob violence with non-violence and courage. They prepared farewell letters and wills. Their goal was to help end racial segregation in public transportation. And they did.
Mt. Gillard Baptist Church, White Hall
Though rarely recognized for its involvement, Mt. Gillard was the first church in Lowndes County to permit mass meetings during the Civil Rights Movement. Today, it continues to host civil rights meetings and activities, and stands in the community as a landmark in the struggle for freedom.
Brown Chapel, Selma
Played a pivotal role in the events that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The church was the site of numerous mass meetings and served as a staging ground for the voting rights marches, the most violent of which occurred on March 7, 1965. During this event, now known as “Bloody Sunday,” a group of 600 marchers attempted to march to the State Capitol in Montgomery to protest the brutal killing of activist Jimmie Lee Jackson of Marion and to gain passage for the voting rights act. The marchers were forced back to the church after being beaten on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge by state troopers, sprayed with tear gas and run down by sheriff deputies on horseback.
First Baptist, Selma
One of the first churches in the area to host meetings held by the Dallas County Voter League, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. A few days before the Selma-to-Montgomery March that began on March 21, 1965 and successfully ended at the State Capitol in Montgomery on March 25, hundreds of demonstrators, black and white, filtered into First Baptist eager to be examined by physicians and sign up for the 54-mile march to Montgomery or simply lend their support to those who would be participating.
16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham
Organized in 1873 as the First Colored Baptist Church, Sixteenth Street was the first black congregation in Birmingham. The present church, completed in 1911, became the site of mass meetings in 1963 which resulted in citizen protests as well as police retaliation and brutality. During this period of grave unrest, Dr. King, Rev. Shuttlesworth, and other clergy provided inspirational leadership to the marchers, many of whom were children. On Sunday, September 15, 1963, the church became known around the world when a bomb exploded under the steps, killing four young girls preparing for Sunday School and injuring more than 20 other members. The horrendous events that took place at the church that day, coupled with violence in other parts of the city, forced white leaders to confront Birmingham’s decades-old racist reputation.
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
Pays homage to the movement and depicts the many struggles through artifacts, photos and interactive exhibits.
Bethel Baptist Church, Birmingham
Located in Birmingham’s Collegeville neighborhood, was built in 1926. It served as headquarters for the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) from 1956 to 1961. Led by the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, the organization focused on legal and nonviolent direct action against segregated accommodations, transportation, schools and employment discrimination. Shuttlesworth served as pastor of Bethel from 1953 to 1961. The church buildings were bombed on three separate occasions, first on December 25, 1956, again on June 29, 1958, and lastly on December 14, 1962. The congregation eventually moved to a new sanctuary a block away.
Historic Water Avenue
View the world-famous Edmund Pettus Bridge and Songs of Selma Park as you stroll through one of Selma's most historic areas. Visit the Bridge Tender's House and Riverfront Park as you explore our city's rich history.
Jackson House Historic Site
This structure houses memorabilia and artifacts from the Civil Rights Movement in Selma. Leaders such as Dr. Ralph Bunche, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ambassador Andrew Young, and many others stayed in this home during a critical time in our nation’s history.
Rosa Parks Museum
Within the exhibits and artifacts found inside our museum, you’ll learn more about the people behind the boycott as well as the political and social climates of 1950s Montgomery. You’ll peer into the faces and hear the voices of brave men and women who fought for freedom peacefully and effectively. Through our exhibits, you will catch a glimpse of the segregated South and the injustices faced by African American citizens. You will get an up-close view at the important roles that strategy, interracial partnerships, and women played within the movement. Come witness Rosa Parks’ arrest, view a 1955 Montgomery city bus, and learn for yourself how a group of willing men and women led by the Montgomery Improvement Association fueled the resolve of a movement. Visitors will also view a 1956 station wagon used as the basis for an extensive carpooling system. While traveling through time, you’ll meet Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and see the mass effect the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Civil Rights Movement had on the world.
Lowndes County Interpretive Center
Located near the site of “Tent City” approximately midway between Selma and Montgomery. Tents were set up at the site after many families who registered to vote were evicted from the land they worked as tenant farmers as a result. Tent City housed up to 20 families in two years until they were able to get back on their feet and find employment.
Timothy Mays, a former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee worker in Lowndes County, assisted Tent City inhabitants with meals and other needs. Mays became famous to the world on March 7, 1965, during “Bloody Sunday,” when he set out along with other marchers during the first attempt to march to Montgomery. A state trooper clubbed and knocked down Mays, who was carrying an American flag. Mays didn’t drop the flag but held onto it as a symbol of the injustice he and others had endured for the cause of freedom. Inside the Interpretive Center, you can view a 30-minute historical video. Wander through the displays that include the flag carried by Mays and touch and feel the interactive exhibits. Before departing, be sure and purchase a piece of history at the gift shop. You can select from books, posters, and memorabilia relating to the marches, including a video documentary of events.
Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma
Located on the Alabama River, the Edmund Pettus Bridge was the scene of “Bloody Sunday,” a day when law enforcement officers brutally attacked over 600 peaceful protesters participating in a march for voting rights. Led by John Lewis and Hosea Williams, the group was met by a line of Alabama law enforcement officials armed with gas canisters, bull whips and night sticks as the marchers approached the end of the bridge. Lewis put another foot forward with Williams by his side, and law enforcement unleashed a wave of violence and brutality that shocked the nation. Lewis was one of the many injured, suffering from a fractured skull. The events that transpired on March 7,1965 led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Follow the Path of the Marchers
Begin in Selma, AL, where you can find the beginning of the historic march at Brown Chapel AME Church. Cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where the nonviolent marchers were stopped and beaten by law enforcement officers on March 7, 1965 during the first attempt to march. If you have extra time, walk around the George Washington Carver Neighborhood, which was the center of the Selma Campaign.
Follow the route of the marchers east on U.S. 80 toward Montgomery. As you drive along the scenic Alabama countryside, be sure to stop at the marcher’s campsites along the way. The first campsite is the David Hall Farm, seven miles from Selma. An advanced group of volunteers had set up tents with supplies and first aid for the marchers on the land of David Hall, who risked harassment from his white neighbors. Volunteers were essential in making sure the marchers remained safe. The second campsite is near White Hall on the land formerly owned by Rosie Steele, twenty miles from Selma. The marchers were soaked by the cold rain and had to improvise rain gear from plastic garbage bags. The third campsite is near Mt. Sinai on the land of Robert Gardner. The fourth and final campsite along the byway is at the City of St. Jude. This campus was a safe haven for the over 12,000 people on the march. Today, the chapel at the City of St. Jude still stands.
54 miles from Selma, you will enter Montgomery, just as those marchers for justice had done in 1965. Stop at the Alabama State Capitol, where the march concluded with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s address to Governor George Wallace and the white power establishment. After a long and insightful journey, be sure to stop at the local restaurants for some uniquely Alabama cooking.
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