Southern Poverty Law Center Civil Rights Memorial and Memorial Center

The Southern Poverty Law Center Civil Rights Memorial and Memorial Center in Montgomery, Montgomery County, pays homage to those who gave their lives in the struggle for civil rights in America. The black granite Civil Rights Memorial records the names of 40 individuals killed during the civil rights movement between 1954 and 1968, and the adjacent Civil Rights Memorial Center tells the stories of those who have given their lives in the fight for tolerance and civil rights from the 1950s into the present day. Both are sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), headquartered across the street.

Civil Rights Memorial The memorial, dedicated on November 5, 1989, was designed by renowned American artist Maya Lin, who also designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. It is constructed of the same materials and is similar in design, consisting of a circular black granite table backed by a large black granite wall. The table is inscribed with the names and dates of death of 40 individuals who were killed for their efforts during the American civil rights movement between 1958 and April 1968, marking the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The names are located around the outer edge of the circle at the end of lines that radiate from the center like the time locations on a clock. A continuous stream of water fed by a pump washes over the top of the table. The large black granite wall behind the table also has a recirculating water feature and is engraved with King’s well-known paraphrase of the Bible quote from Amos 5:24: “(We will not be satisfied) ‘until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream’.” Like the Vietnam memorial, this memorial invites visitors to touch the engraved names, and the surrounding plaza provides an area of somber contemplation for visitors.

Opened in 2005 adjacent to the memorial, the Civil Rights Memorial Center is a 5,000-square-foot building that houses multiple exhibits, a 56-seat theater, a classroom for educational activities, and the interactive Wall of Tolerance. The center’s exhibits include photographs and stories of the individuals whose names are inscribed on the nearby memorial as well as those who died more recently from hate crimes. This aspect aims to connect the past fight for equality to the current broader struggle for human rights.

Wall of Tolerance The center goes beyond the traditional major figures of the civil rights movement to tell the stories of the unsung heroes of the movement, including veterans, college students, children, priests, and others who have participated in the struggle. The center hosts a display called “The Forgotten,” which includes the names of 74 men and women whose deaths during the civil rights era suggest that they were victims of hate crimes. But their names were not inscribed on the nearby memorial because of insufficient information surrounding their deaths at the time that the memorial was created. Visitors are also treated to the 18-minute Faces in the Water film, which tells the stories of those individuals whose names are inscribed on the memorial as well as the stories of their families. The Wall of Tolerance is a large multi-story screen that displays the names of thousands of individuals who have taken the pledge to stand for justice and tolerance in their daily lives. Visitors can add their names to the wall via a keyboard located in the room. Recent upgrades to the wall allow it to honor the martyrs of the civil rights movement on the anniversary of their deaths by displaying their photos. The center hopes to add more interactive technology such as a digital map of nearby historic sites and touchscreen displays that will highlight the stories of contemporary victims of hate crimes. The center and memorial have served as the site of somber vigils concerning civil rights and the struggle for equality, including the controversial deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.

The center and the memorial are located at 400 Washington Avenue in Montgomery, across the street from the SPLC. The memorial is open for visitation 24 hours a day and seven days a week, and the center is open Monday-Friday from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm and Saturday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. There is a small admission fee for adults; children are admitted free of charge. The memorial and center are located around the corner from the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. served as pastor during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, as well as the Alabama Capitol steps, where the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march ended. Also nearby are the Alabama Department of Archives and History and the First White House of the Confederacy.

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