President Obama Designates Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument


Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, in which four children were murdered, 1963. (Anthony Falletta/The Birmingham News)

In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, President Obama designated three new national monuments honoring our civil rights history, including the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, which encompasses the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Kelly Ingram Park, the A.G. Gaston Motel, Bethel Baptist Church, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

The Gaston Motel served as the headquarters for the 1963 civil rights campaign led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Built by a Black entrepreneur in 1954 in response to the lack of full-service accommodations in Birmingham that accepted African Americans, the motel was bombed on May 10, 1963. It is within walking distance of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where white supremacists planted a bomb that killed four young girls on September 15, 1963.

“Violence was frequently used to intimidate those who dared to challenge segregation,” reads the presidential proclamation establishing the monument. “From 1945 to 1963, Birmingham witnessed 60 bombings of African American homes, businesses, and churches, earning the city the nickname ‘Bombingham.'”

Across the street from the church is Kelly Ingram Park, where police directed dogs and firehoses at children protesting segregation and inequality as part of what became known as the Children’s Crusade. Hundreds of children were arrested during a mass protest in Kelly Ingram Park on May 3, 1963.

Public outrage over the events in Birmingham produced political pressure that helped to ensure passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which President Lyndon Johnson signed into law on July 2, 1964.

President Obama also designated the Freedom Riders National Monument in Anniston, Alabama, which includes the Greyhound Bus Station where a racially integrated bus of Freedom Riders was attacked in the spring on 1961, and the site where that bus was firebombed and burned minutes later, as well as the Reconstruction Era National Monument in coastal South Carolina, which tells the story of a robust community developed by formerly enslaved people and establishes the first unit in the National Park System focused on Reconstruction.

“These monuments preserve the vibrant history of the Reconstruction Era and its role in redefining freedom. They tell the important stories of the citizens who helped launch the civil rights movement in Birmingham and the Freedom Riders whose bravery raised national awareness of segregation and violence,” President Obama said in a statement. “These stories are part of our shared history.”