New book lists major Southern sites from the civil rights movement

The National Park Service purchased the deed to Martin Luther King Jr.'s birth home from the King family. It is one of the places listed in a new book highlighting sites important to the civil right movement. AJC FILE

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The National Park Service purchased the deed to Martin Luther King Jr.'s birth home from the King family. It is one of the places listed in a new book highlighting sites important to the civil right movement. AJC FILE

Lee Sentell sat in the back row of the Tallahatchie County Courthouse where the trial of the men accused of killing Emmett Till was held.

It’s now a museum in Sumner, Mississippi.

It took 67 minutes for the all-white, all-male jury in 1955 to find Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam not guilty of the Chicago teen’s brutal beating and murder.

“The fact that those people could so cavalierly exonerate two men who beat a 14-year-old boy to death is just hard to fathom,” said Sentell.

Sentell will hold a private book launch in Atlanta on Wednesday at the Martin Luther King Jr. birth home on Auburn Ave. N.E., for “The Official U.S. Civil Rights Trail: What Happened Here Changed the World.” The birth home and other facilities at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Site are still closed to visitors due to the pandemic.

Sentell has spent the last three years visiting that and other sites that were important in the South’s civil rights history. Sentell, director of the Alabama Tourism Department, recently authored the book that serves as an educational guide for tourists interested in retracing the steps of the movement.

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The book serves as companion to the U.S. Civil Rights Trail website, and includes more than 120 destinations across 14 states, including nearly a dozen in Georgia such as historic Ebenezer Baptist Church and the Apex Museum.

Several of the sites in Atlanta are related in some way to King’s work or help tell the story of the movement.

“We encourage people to experience these historic sites to learn more about African American history and the struggle of the Civil Rights Movement,” said Judy Forte, superintendent of the King historical site. Before the pandemic that site had between 700,000 and a million visitors annually.

Also parked in front of the birth home will be vintage bus identical to those used during the 1961 Freedom Rides. Sentell makes it clear that there are no known connections between the buses used during the rides and the bus that will be used as part of his launch.

People will be able to tour the bus, he said.

“I want people to be curious about what happened during the civil rights movement,” he said. “Things happened in these physical places that involved real people — perpetrators and victims alike.”

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