Go & Do: Civil Rights History sites

Investigators at the 16th Street Baptist church after it was bombed in 1963. FBI photo.
Investigators at the 16th Street Baptist church after it was bombed in 1963. FBI photo.

Travel to where key events in the movement occurred

Key events in 1963, from organized protests in Alabama to Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, galvanized the civil rights movement that eventually toppled Jim Crow laws in the South. The 50th anniversary of those events is a great time to visit sites pivotal to the end of Southern segregation and that reflect on key events in African-American history.

Birmingham, Ala.

The City: By car, Birmingham is about two hours and 15 minutes from Atlanta. If you opt to fly non-stop, it's just under an hour. Founded in 1871, it grew so rapidly from a small town to a booming manufacturing center, it adopted the nickname "The Magic City." It boasts a metro population of one million-plus and an economy that focuses on medical research, banking and the service industry. With hundreds of restaurants and a multitude of theaters, museums and sports activities available, it's an entertaining and educational getaway. Referred to by many as the "Cradle of the Civil Rights Movement," it is home to the 16th Street Baptist Church, which is recognized as one of the key sites in the struggle for African-American Civil Rights. www.birminghamal.org

The Site: 16th Street Baptist Church

Constructed at its current location in 1911, the 16th Street Baptist Church was originally founded in 1873 as The First Colored Baptist Church of Birmingham. It is significant in the civil rights movement for a number of reasons, including its key function as a rallying point for movement leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., and the tragic bombing that occurred there on Sept. 15, 1963, which killed four young girls. Designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2006, it continues to hold services and offer tours for visitors. 1530 Sixth Avenue North. 205-251-9402. www.16thstreetbaptist.org

Where to Stay: Cobb Lane Bed & Breakfast 

Replete with crystal chandeliers, fine china and legendary southern hospitality, this beautifully decorated Victorian style bed and breakfast near Birmingham's Historic Five Points area, the downtown financial district and the University of Alabama-Birmingham. 1309 19th St. South 205-918-9090. www.cobblanebandb.com

The Hotel Highland

Located in Five Points South and close to the University of Alabama-Birmingham, the Hotel Highland is touted as the city's premiere luxury boutique hotel . It includes 63 distinctive guest quarters with Brazilian bed linens and handcrafted furnishings. It was voted Birmingham's top hotel in "Birmingham's 2011 Best of the Best." 1023 20th Street South, www.thehotelhighland.com 205-933-9555.

Where to Dine: Highlands Bar and Grill 

Cited as one of the best restaurants in America by the James Beard Association, Opinionated Dining, tripadvisor.com and others, fans of fine dining have flocked to Highlands Bar and Grill for French-inspired American cuisine since 1982. 2011 11th Ave S. 205-939-1400. highlandsbarandgrill.com

Saw’s BBQ

Lauded by locals and websites like Yelp and Urbanspoon as the place to go for barbecue with heaping helpings at a budget price, Saw's BBQ is legendary for its mouth-watering ribs, chicken and pulled pork. It's a bit off the beaten path but well worth the drive. 1008 Oxmoor Road. Homewood. 205-879-1937. www.sawsbbq.com

Montgomery, Ala.

The City: The capital of Alabama was officially incorporated in 1819. If you opt to drive – it's relatively short: only about two-and-a-half hours. Non-stop flights are less than an hour. Once the capital of the Confederate States of America (prior to its relocation to Richmond), in later years the city would serve as a backdrop for several advances in the civil rights movement, among them the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Selma to Montgomery marches. Be sure to visit to the Rosa Parks Museum. www.visitingmontgomery.com

The Site: The Rosa Parks Library & Museum is located on the campus of Troy University at the corner of Montgomery and Moulton where Rosa Parks was arrested in 1955. It's 7,000 square feet include interactive multi-media, as well as a replica of a 1950s era Montgomery city bus that highlights Park's experience. 252 Montgomery St. 334-241-8615. www.troy.edu/rosaparks/museum/

Where to Stay: Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa 

This four-star hotel includes fine dining, a fitness and recreation center and a total of 345 rooms - 50 of those are considered "premium" in case you're in the mood to live extra large. 201 Tallapoosa St. 334-481-5000. www.marriott.com

Red Bluff Cottage

Victorian-inspired B&B includes breakfast, dinner and an amazing view of central Montgomery. 551 Clay St. 334-264-0056. www.redbluffcottage.com

Where to Dine: Central 

Owned by a Montgomery native, Yelpers are pretty crazy about this fine dining experience. Serving American food with an emphasis on fresh Gulf seafood. 129 Coosa Street. 334-517-1155. www.central129coosa.com

Dreamland BBQ

The legendary Dreamland Café opened in 1958 helmed by John "Big Daddy" Bishop. Inside you'll find a bar, dining booths, a pot bellied stove and kind-to-your-wallet plates, sandwiches, desserts and more. 101 Tallapoosa St. 334-273-7427. www.dreamlandbbq.com

Greensboro, N.C.

The City: If you decide to go, it's five-and-a-half hours by car and a little over an hour via available non-stop flight. Originally it was known as a tobacco and textile town – but these days it's setting its sights on computer and nanotechnology. Much of the center city's early 20th century architecture remains intact, and there are multiple dining establishments and entertainment venues throughout the area. For a look at significant civil rights history, the International Civil Rights Center & Museum is a visit not to be missed. www.visitgreensboronc.com

The Site: The International Civil Rights Center & Museum was, originally, a storefront for F.W. Woolworth And Company. It was also the site of the Greensboro lunch-counter sit-in of Feb. 1, 1960, when four students, in an act of non-violent civil protest, requested to be served like white patrons. The building remains intact, and the lunch counter is today exactly as it was over 50 years ago. The museum has nearly 20 permanent displays, as well as changing exhibits. It's an emotionally moving step back in time. 134 South Elm St., 336-274-9199. www.sitinmovement.org

Where to Stay: The Biltmore Greensboro Hotel 

Built in 1903, over the years the building served as office space, apartments and then finally, a hotel. Restored in classic detail in the 1990s, the Biltmore Greensboro came under new management as of 2007. It is the only historic boutique hotel in center city Greensboro and offers a chance to experience period high-end accommodations like no other in the southeast. 111 W.Washington St. 336-272-2474. www.thebiltmoregreensboro.com

Dailey Renewal Retreat

This Queen Anne Victorian home was built in 1914 and offers comfortable and affordable accommodations in close proximity to UNCG, the Greensboro Coliseum and the center city business and entertainment district. 808 Northridge St. 336-451-7742. www.daileyrenewalretreat.net

Where to Dine: Liberty Oak Restaurant & Bar 

Upscale dining and a full bar for lunch, brunch and dinner. The menu includes soups, appetizers, rainbow trout, beef tenderloin and vegetarian selections. 100 W. Washington St. 336-273-7057. www.libertyoakrestaurant.com

Emma Key’s Flat Top Grill

Known for its affordable and iresistable beef burgers served with a wide variety of toppings, Emma Key's also offers fish and vegan options. 2206 Walker Ave. 336-285-9429 www.emmakeys.com

Memphis, Tenn.

The City: The drive to Memphis isn't exactly a straight line, and it takes nearly six hours. If you choose to fly, expect about one hour and fifteen minutes in the air. Perhaps known best for its mix of blues, barbecue and Elvis Presley, Memphis is also the site of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death. On April 4, 1968, the iconic civil rights leader was shot dead on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. www.memphistravel.com

The Site: The former Lorraine Motel has since been converted into the National Civil Rights Museum. With building additions and restoration to the motel, the site now houses multiple permanent interactive exhibits and takes visitors on a tour through the room Dr. King stayed in at the time of his death. 450 Mulberry St. 901-521-9699. www.civilrightsmuseum.org

Where to Stay: The Peabody Hotel 

This sumptuous hotel was built in 1869 and is known around the globe for its daily march of Peabody Ducks to and from the hotel's fountain. With 464 guest rooms and 11 stories, the Peabody also offers pet-friendly rooms and such modern amenities as a day spa, art galleries and more. 149 Union Ave. 901-529-4000. www.peabodymemphis.com

Belvedere Suites

Nestled in Memphis' historic Central Gardens neighborhood, this is where to stay when you want a hotel and room with some character. Easy walking distance to many attractions. 20 N Belvedere Blvd. 901-517-6814. memphisbelvederesuites.com.

Where to Dine: Chez Philippe 

If you're staying at the Peabody, don't pass up the opportunity to experience the classical French cuisine of Executive Chef Andreas Kisler. Dinner and afternoon tea are available Wednesday through Saturday. 149 Union Ave. 901-529-4188. www.peabodymemphis.com

Soul Fish Café

Popular local favorite offers big servings of tasty comfort food like fried seafood, smoked chicken and a variety of fresh vegetables. 862 South Cooper St. 901-725-0722. www.soulfishcafe.com

Richmond, Va.

The City: Richmond offers a different look at the earliest beginnings of the American Civil Rights movement, dating back to the Civil War and a time when Richmond served as the capital of the Confederate States of America. Of all the destinations mentioned in this article, Richmond is the most distant from Atlanta. Direct flights from Atlanta to Richmond are about an hour and a half. On the road, you can expect to spend upwards of nine hours in the car. Should you decide to go, you'll find a wealth of history, historic architecture, desirable accommodations and exciting dining adventures. www.visitrichmondva.com

The Site: The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar

It is the nation's first museum to explore the Civil War from Union, Confederate, and African American views through permanent and rotating exhibits and special presentations. Known as The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar, the site is both saddening and exhilirating: it offers a perspective of how far African-Americans had yet to go to achieve the beginnings of equality and a look at who we are today. Tredegar originally opened in 1837 as one of the leading iron manufacturers in the United States. It survived the Civil War and now serves additionally as a welcoming center for the Richmond National Battlefield Park Service. 500 Tredegar St. 804-649-1861. www.tredegar.org

Where to Stay: The Jefferson Hotel 

Long acknowledged as the city's grand dame of accommodations, the Jefferson Hotel opened its doors in 1895. Amenities include two fine-dining restaurants, a fitness club, and an indoor swimming pool. Located in the heart of the center city area, the hotel is close to multiple tourist attractions. 101 W Franklin St. 804-649-4750. www.jeffersonhotel.com

Museum District Bed and Breakfast

Built in 1922, this B&B features multiple bedrooms and two suites, in addition to a carriage house, which are all decorated with period detail. Centrally located, it's directly across the street from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and just a few steps more from the Virginia Historical Society. It's also within walking distance of Monument Avenue and two blocks from Carytown, which boasts numerous shopping and dining experiences, along with neighborhood pubs and live music venues. 2811 Grove Ave., 804-359-2332. www.museumdistrictbb.com

Where to Dine: Belmont Food Shop 

Another gem located in the Museum district. Small-ish bistro touts their food as "back to basics" (offers an extremely popular prix fixe menu) but includes some extra tasty dishes (that hardly seem basic) like sauteed flounder, roasted rockfish and fluke ceviche. 27 N. Belmont Ave. 804-358-7467. www.facebook.com/belmontfoodshop

821 Café

New American cuisine for the taste and budget conscious. Local faves include various pasta/salad combos, wraps, clubs, burgers and more. 825 W Cary St. 804-649-1042. www.821caferva.com

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