August 21, 2013

Five Saved Civil Rights Sites: Commemorating the March On Washington

  • By: National Trust for Historic Preservation

The March on Washington. Credit: US Information Agency.

August 28, 2013 will mark the 50th anniversary of the March On Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The occasion is cause for reflection on the people and places that helped shape the civil rights movement.

Historic sites that represent the fight for equality in America are essential to telling the full story of this important chapter of our nation's history. To commemorate the moment, we present five sites that preserve the memory of the struggle for civil rights.

1. The Rosa Parks Bus, Dearborn, Mich.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks’ courageous action to not give up her seat to a white man started the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a calculated act which in turn sparked the modern American civil rights movement. Decades later, that same bus was found lying unprotected and deteriorating in a field. In 2002, the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan restored this iconic piece of history and returned it to its 1955 physical appearance, now shown as a permanent exhibit. Today, the restored bus tells one of America's greatest stories about one of our most revered heroes.

Rosa Parks, and the bus that started a movement. Credit: rmhermen, Wikimedia Commons.

2. Daisy Bates House, Little Rock, Ark.

Daisy Bates was the principal organizer of the group of African-American students known as the "Little Rock Nine." These children are famous for integrating Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Bates’ home became the headquarters for the battle to integrate Central High School and a haven for the nine students. Bates soon became a nationally recognized advocate for civil rights due to her perseverance to desegregate public schools. The house today is a National Historic Landmark.

The Little Rock Nine. Credit: US Army, Wikimedia Commons.

3. Lorraine Hotel, Memphis, Tenn.

On April 4, 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, where he had traveled to support the city’s sanitation workers strike. Built in 1925 as a "whites only" motel, by the end of World War II the Lorraine had become a black establishment that hosted Cab Colloway, Count Basie, and other prominent jazz musicians of the day. It is now home to the National Civil Rights Museum, following a difficult campaign to save the modest hotel from foreclosure or demolition.

Motel Lorraine, site of Martin Luther King's assassination. Credit: Joseph A., Flickr.

4. Freedom Rides Museum, Montgomery, Ala.

A Montgomery bus station that could have easily been demolished today stands as an enduring tribute to the bravery of Freedom Riders and their contribution to our nation’s civil rights struggle. The Freedom Rides Museum encompasses the courthouse where former U.S. District Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr. presided over crucial civil rights cases, as well as the modest bus station next door where, in 1961, an integrated group of 21 college students used nonviolent means to protest segregation.

The station in Montgomery, Alabama where the Freedom Riders boarded their bus. Credit: drmies, Wikimedia Commons.

5. F.W. Woolworth Building, Greensboro, N.C.

The Woolworth's Five & Dime in Greensboro, North Carolina was the scene of a "sit-in" that began with four college freshmen at the store's "whites only" lunch counter and ended with more than 400 peaceful protestors. A year later, 126 cities, including Greensboro, had integrated their restaurants and lunch counters. Today the building houses the International Civil Rights Center and Museum and includes the original portion of the lunch counter and stools where the four pioneering students sat.

The Woolworth's Five & Dime in Greensboro, North Carolina, a sit-in site. Credit: rustytanton, Flickr.

Where were you during the March on Washington, and how are you observing the anniversary?

This Preservation Month, let's celebrate and explore historic places, starting with one action a day through the month of May. We can’t wait to see what you accomplish!

Get Started