Preservation Magazine, Spring 2017

A Look Back At Birmingham's Civil Rights Efforts

In January 2017, President Obama officially designated the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, which encompasses several sites. Each one represents the courage, determination, and hope witnessed in the Alabama city, then and now.

a photo of the truce between black and white leaders of Birmingham, held in the courtyard of the A.G. Gaston Motel

photo by: City of Birmingham Archives

A truce between black and white leaders in Birmingham took place at the A.G. Gaston Motel.


May 2–10

The “Children’s Crusade” marches at Kelly Ingram Park are violently broken up by police. More than 1,000 protesters, mostly children and teenagers, are arrested.

May 10

A truce between white business leaders and the African-American community is reached in the courtyard of the A.G. Gaston Motel. The motel is bombed shortly afterward.

September 15

A bomb at 16th Street Baptist Church kills four African-American girls between the ages of 11 and 14.


July 2

Spurred largely by the events in Birmingham, President Johnson announces the passage of the Civil Rights Act, asking Americans to “pray for wise and understanding hearts.”

The 16th Street Baptist Church stands across the street from Kelly Ingram Park.

photo by: Mark Sandlin

Civil Rights leaders met frequently at 16th Street Baptist Church.


The National Trust names the A.G. Gaston Motel as part of its National Treasures program. Arthur George Gaston built the motel in 1954 to serve African-American guests. Civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy, held strategy sessions in one of its rooms, known as the “war room.”


Rep. Terri Sewell introduces bipartisan legislation, supported by the National Trust and Birmingham Mayor William Bell, that would designate Birmingham Civil Rights National Historical Park.


January 12

The Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument includes sites such as the A.G. Gaston Motel, Kelly Ingram Park, 16th Street Baptist Church, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, St. Paul United Methodist Church, and parts of the 4th Avenue Business District.

the historic sign at the A.G. Gaston Motel in Birmingham Alabama

photo by: Mark Sandlin

The motel has been vacant for over two decades, but plans for its rehabilitation are now in the works.

Meghan White is a historic preservationist and a former assistant editor for Preservation magazine. She has a penchant for historic stables, absorbing stories of the past, and one day rehabilitating a Charleston single house.

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