An afternoon at a lunch counter. A thousand arms linked at the elbow. A firing line of water hoses. A pack of German Shepherds. A letter from a Birmingham jail. A devastating explosion. A world that would never be the same.
The year was 1963, and as the world watched, events in Birmingham sparked an unstoppable surge toward equal rights for people of all races.
In the year leading up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Birmingham's bravest men, women and children risked their lives to abolish segregation and gain equal footing in a society of inequality. Not all the Birmingham stories leading up to 1963 are grim; stories of heroism and triumph also have their place in the history of the movement.
As Birmingham enters 2013, the city will mark the 50th anniversary of pivotal events of the 1963 campaign. Plans for the commemoration call for a yearlong multi-city promotion to include a Civil Rights Trail linking cities with significant ties to the movement. Other cities participating in the salute to 1963 include Jackson, MS, Selma and Montgomery, AL, Columbia SC, Memphis, TN, and Washington, DC.
Large numbers of group tours as well as individual travelers are expected to visit Birmingham's historic Civil Rights District along with other trail cities during 2013.
Richly detailed exhibits in the Civil Rights Institute reveal slices of black and white life in Alabama from the late 1800s to the present. A series of galleries tells the stories of daily life for African-Americans in the state and the nation and how dramatically different it was from the lives white people of the era took for granted.
One of the most compelling sites in the Civil Rights District is historic Kelly Ingram Park, across the street from the Civil Rights Institute. The park served as a gathering place for demonstrations in the early 1960s, including the ones in which police dogs and fire hoses were turned on marchers, many of them children. A new park audio tour, accessible by cell phone, will be rolled out for the 2013 commemoration.
Catercornered to the park is Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Birmingham's most famous civil rights landmark. On a bright September morning in 1963, a dynamite bomb set by Ku Klux Klansmen exploded at the church, killing four little girls. For nearly five decades since that time, visitors have come from all over the world to honor the victims, Carole Robertson, Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley and Addie Mae Collins. Now a new marker has been placed on the east side of the church where the girls were killed in the ladies' lounge as they prepared for morning worship.
Major special events also are being planned for the commemorative year. For more information and details visit the website 50 Years Forward.
For more information about top events in Alabama take a look at the Top Events USA selection of the annual main festivals and events in Alabama.