Montgomery, Alabama (May 18, 2021) -- Most American history books only scratch the surface when it comes to telling stories about the Civil Rights Movement, and consequently many of those stories are not that well-known. To help bring a behind-the-scenes look at how the Civil Rights Movement shaped a nation, the Alabama Tourism Department is launching the Alabama Civil Rights Trail podcast, a three-part podcast series that takes an in-depth look into stories of the Civil Rights Movement.
“Our new Alabama Civil Rights Trail podcast series will bring the state’s role in the Civil Rights Movement to life for listeners,” said Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Tourism Department. “Our goal is for listeners to learn more about the history of the movement and how Alabama played a critical role in shaping voting rights and equality for everyone.”
The first episode provides an in-depth look into who the Freedom Riders were and their mission to ride across the Deep South. Episode two dives deeper into the bombings and other terrorizing activities that took place in Birmingham during the late 1950s through the mid-1960s. Although many of the events that happened in Birmingham were designed to suppress the Civil Rights Movement, these events instead motivated supporters in the state and around the world to join the fight for civil rights. The third episode covers attempted voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, which radically influenced the passage of the Voting Rights Act, and discusses how events that happened more than 50 years ago still play a role in the fight for equality today.
The groundwork for the Freedom Riders began after the landmark Supreme Court rulings in the cases of Morgan v. Virginia (1946) and Boynton v. Virginia (1960). In 1944, Irene Morgan was arrested in Virginia for refusing to move to the “colored section” of the Greyhound Bus she was riding on her trip back to Baltimore after visiting her mother. The Supreme Court ruled 7-1 that segregation on interstate buses was an unconstitutional burden on interstate commerce. That ruling was largely ignored by states in the South. In 1959, Selma-native and Harvard Law student, Bruce Boynton was arrested for attempting to order a cheeseburger in the “whites only” section of a Richmond bus station. Rather than pay his fine, Boynton took his case to the Supreme Court, leading to the regulation of interstate commerce and prohibiting racial discrimination in bus terminals.
In 1961, activists who called themselves “Freedom Riders” decided to test the Boynton ruling by boarding buses in Washington D.C. on May 4, 1961, bound for New Orleans, LA, for the seventh anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling. The Ride that began with a group of 13 diverse individuals grew to a movement of more than 430 riders between May and November of 1961. The episode reveals how an integrated group of Freedom Riders tested the Supreme Court’s decision by challenging the segregated transportation practices across the South.
Many historians and professors were interviewed for the first episode, providing insights to the scope and impact of the Freedom Rides campaign on the overall Civil Rights Movement.
“(The Freedom Rides) was actually a transformative moment in civil rights history,” said Dorothy Walker, director of the Freedom Rides Museum. “This was the psychological turning point in the entire struggle.” The museum, located in Montgomery’s historic Greyhound Bus station, is where Freedom Riders, including John Lewis, were violently attacked on May 20, 1961.
Ed Bridges, director emeritus of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, provides a geopolitical view of the events that occurred between President John F. Kennedy and Alabama Governor John Patterson and the actions that eventually led to the federal government’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.
The first episode of the Alabama Civil Rights Trail podcast powerfully builds context for the succeeding episodes where listeners can examine the stories behind Birmingham’s role in shaping the Civil Rights Movement and the events that led to the Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights. Each episode reveals compelling and moving history lessons that can be applied to events happening in today’s world.
At the end of each episode, listeners are encouraged to visit the Alabama Tourism Department’s website where they can learn more about Alabama’s civil rights legacy and plan their own civil rights journey with the help of the Alabama Civil Rights Trail mobile app – available now for free download in app stores.
For more information, please visit: Alabama.Travel/CivilRights
The Alabama Tourism Department has won honors from World Travel Market: London, United States Travel Association, National Council of State Tourism Directors, Travel Weekly magazine, the Southeast Tourism Society, Southern Public Relations Federation and others for its tourism marketing campaigns, and Alabama Tourism was instrumental in developing the U. S. Civil Rights Trail. Last year was an extraordinary year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and despite these circumstances, the state of Alabama thrived as a popular destination for travelers in 2020. More than $800 million in state and local tax revenues were generated by travel and tourism activities.