National Voting Rights Museum and Institute
National Voting Rights Museum and Institute The National Voting Rights Museum and Institute (NVRMI), located in Selma, Dallas County, collects, exhibits, interprets, and document images and artifacts related to the history of Selma, the voting rights struggle, voting rights in the United States, and the civil rights movement. As part of its mission, NVRMI is dedicated to preserving the stories and material culture that demonstrate the struggle for voting rights and human dignity. Since its inception, more than one million people have visited the museum, which was named one of Alabama’s top ten tourist attractions for 2015 by the Alabama Tourism Department. The museum is governed by a 15-member board of directors and is supported by a variety of private and public and state and national entities and individual donors.
NVRMI was founded in 1991 by veterans of the voting rights movement, including Faya Ora Rose Touré (Rose Sanders), the first African American female judge in Alabama and an advisor to Martin Luther King Jr., Cordy T. Vivian, Albert Turner, Amelia Boynton Robinson, Marie Foster, Louretta Wimberly, attorney J. L. Chestnut Jr., Perry Varner, and co-founder Joanne Bland. The museum was constructed at the western terminus of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, notorious site of clashes between state and local police and civil rights protestors during the Selma to Montgomery march.
Opening in 1993, NVRMI displays artifacts and oral histories from the participants in the events leading up to and including the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches and the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, as well as from the many average citizens, often called “foot soldiers,” who struggled for African American voting rights and women’s suffrage. The museum includes an archive that houses collections, artifacts, and digital files on both the history of Selma as well as the voting rights movement in Alabama for use by scholars and others. NVRMI also seeks to serve as an education center emphasizing the importance of advocating for and protecting the right to vote for all individuals. The museum sponsors after-school leadership programs and a variety of other educational activities in cooperation with public schools, participates in campaigns against violence, and co-sponsors the Peace Warriors Program, which trains young men in nonviolence and conflict resolution.
The museum has several rooms and exhibit areas divided up by themes. In the Main Gallery, the “Footprints Hall of Fame” showcases casts of the footprints of some of the activists who participated in the Selma to Montgomery marches; their footprints are also place throughout the museum. It also houses the “March Mural” by photographer James Karales, a history of the Dallas County Voters League, information on the Selma to Montgomery march, and artifacts connected with Gov. George Wallace and Sheriff Jim Clark as well as voting records and clothing worn by victims of police violence on Bloody Sunday. The “Women’s Suffrage” gallery includes an exhibit on the contributions of African American women to the women’s suffrage movement. Other galleries focus on Reconstruction, the religious and legal aspects of the voting rights movement, and Pres. Barack Obama. The “I Was There” wall allows visitors to contribute historical information regarding their own personal involvement in voting rights efforts. Exhibits focus on Rev. Jesse Jackson, non-violence, the Ku Klux Klan, Martin Luther King Jr., and Pres. John F. Kennedy, among others.
Every year, NVRMI participates in the Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee in March, commemorating the events of the Selma to Montgomery march. Activities include a parade, a Miss Jubilee Pageant, a mock trial, workshops, a golf tournament, music, awards, a film festival, and a commemorative march over the bridge. Every five years, celebrants continue all the way to Montgomery. Other annual events include the Dr. King March and Dr. King Oratory Contest in January, Black History Jeopardy in February, the Nonviolence Training Institute and Juneteenth Celebration in June, and the Celebrate Voting Rights Act event in August. In addition, the museum hosts an Annual Living Legends and Membership Banquet, which celebrates the legacy of the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement.
The museum is open Monday through Thursday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm and Friday through Sunday by appointment.