Best Civil Rights Museums

April 4, 2023

The fight for national civil rights was long and challenging and featured some of the most heroic, heartbreaking, and tragic moments in American history. Many major figures, like Martin Luther King, helped make the world a better place through great personal sacrifice. However, there were also many other untold stories that centered on people who could have gone unnoticed in history.

Stone facade of a musuem with the word "museum"

Civil Rights Museums Bring the Impact of the Past to Its Visitors

Thankfully, multiple destinations celebrating this fight have opened up to tell these stories. The most powerful museums in the nation include fantastic exhibits, regular events, guided tours, and highlight the personal struggles many went through during this time. They don't just showcase big names like MLK but discuss people who history may have forgotten without these museums. Consider events happening at any museums when looking for the perfect time to fly.

If you're interested in visiting these areas, we at The Parking Spot can help take you there. After you book your trip, hotel, and any other amenities, we can help you by providing convenient parking at a nearby airport.

The 6 Most Powerful Civil Rights Museums in America

These powerful museums use exhibits that highlight the real challenges of the equal rights movement, as well as real-world and virtual events. Understanding what they have to offer can help you decide which place you want to travel to visit. Some will feature information about major figures like Martin Luther King, while others go beyond MLK and discuss those who aren't mentioned as often in history books. As a result, visiting all six should teach you even more about this important movement.

National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis

This important museum is one of the oldest Civil Rights museum options dedicated to this fight for equal rights. It was established in 1991 at the former Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated in the late 1960s. This gives this museum a vast historical context and importance.

It includes over 40 films about the movement, oral histories about the importance of Dr. King, interactive media for guests, virtual galleries, and much more. It is among the top five percent of all institutions accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, which experts consider one of the highest honors for an American museum.

Every year, this museum holds King's Day: An All-Day Celebration that includes free admission and a variety of events. These not only highlight Dr. King's sacrifice but help the community of Memphis in multiple ways. Just a few things that occurred during this event include:

  • Blood donation to help the Memphis community
  • Food drives to help the needy in the area
  • Multiple events highlighting King's life
  • Discussions about King's legacy in this movement

Attendance is available from Wednesday through Monday between 9-5. Ticket prices vary depending on age and reservations are available. Tours require checking in 15 minutes before the event and the last tickets are sold at 4:15 because the whole event takes at least 45 minutes to complete.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is an extension of the Smithsonian Institution that focuses on educational research and promoting better understanding of this period in American history. It opened in 1992 and provides multiple events and exhibits that provide better context for this movement.

For instance, its 30-year celebration included a week of festivities with performances, a one-night special exhibit, humanitarian awards, archival discussions, and much more. This one-time exhibit was popular and provided visitors with more context about this museum's importance.

This museum also includes the Emmett Till & Mamie Till-Mobley: Let the World See exhibit, one that discusses these important historical figures and their impact on the equal rights movement. Exhibits like these highlight the broad nature of this movement and showcase people rarely discussed in this context.

The 16th Street Baptist Church, directly across the street from The BCRI, is the site of one of the most consequential events of the Civil Rights movement. After a bombing took place, the FBI started and closed an investigation. 10 years later, the investigation was reopened by the Alabama Attorney General; with the FBI’s help, the case was later resolved. A museum exhibit details the information about the event that took place in 1963.

The BCRI also includes virtual exhibits that let you explore this historical moment in unique ways, including getting a real-world look at the time period and experiencing first-hand what bigotry was like during that time. These popular exhibits help the BCRI stand out from other museums in the area.

Other events include the book fair that brings in African American authors from all around the nation. They discuss their books, their life, and share inspirational stories about their struggles. You can even get signed copies of their books after purchasing one. Their extensive archives are among the best in the nation.

The Legacy Museum in Montgomery

The Legacy Museum in Montgomery: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration is unique among these Civil Rights museums in that it actively engages with the still-challenging world of the contemporary African-American experience. It highlights how mass incarceration is an extension of racism in American society.

It focuses on the history of slavery and was built close to one of the most prominent slave auction spaces in American history. Visitors learn about the Transatlantic Slave Trade and how it impacted the North and coastal areas throughout America. You also learn about the domestic slave trade and American Reconstruction. Exhibits include a diverse array of different things, including:

  • 200 sculptures that highlight the dangerous impact of the slave trade
  • Original animated short films narrated by award-winning artists
  • Detailed timelines that examine the impact of slavery in America
  • First-person accounts acted out by talented actors and performers
  • Dramatic highlights of lynching and its impact on American history
  • Examinations of the Jim Crow area and how it was brought to an end
  • Discussions on the impact of mass incarceration, including wrongly condemned and sentenced people

Visitors can also see the Reflection Space. This exhibit includes world-class art by celebrated African American artists. This showcases the importance of these artists in American society and the ways that they've influenced the development of various art and musical movements.

You can also visit The National Memorial for Peace and Justice at this museum to remember those who were terrorized by racial segregation, slavery, lynching, and police injustice. This memorial can be emotionally difficult to take in but is useful to experience at least once in your life.

National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta

The National Center for Civil and Human Rights is one of the most recently opened of these exhibits. Starting in 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia, it collects the papers and belongings of MLK to highlight his struggle in this battle and the ways that he adapted to it in his life.

Visitors here can check out multiple destinations, including a virtual tour that goes through each display to provide more context for their importance. It also hosts regular book talks, lectures, and conversation with the community through its Campaign for Equal Dignity movement.

This education program helps to bring deeper context to history for teachers and students and provides tools for discussing these important movements. Their goal is to expand critical thinking and to make it easier for young people to make important decisions about these historical movements.

To help provide real solutions to racial problems, this museum provides a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training program that teaches law enforcement officials and others about basic human rights. The goal is to combat racial prejudice at its source and provide better knowledge of the challenges of this community.

Other events include discussions on anti-racism and the importance of actively fighting against racist ideas. It's not enough to simply avoid being actively racist, this museum argues. People need to take a stand and fight racist thoughts with compassion, education, and patience.


The International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro

The International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina opened in 2010 and is one of the most comprehensive Civil Rights museums of its type. It focuses not only on preserving information about this period but also includes educational tools that help make history come alive for visitors. Just a few things that you can experience as a guest when you visit this museum include:

  • Audio narratives that highlight the struggles people faced during this type
  • Video exhibitions that create a real-world look into this difficult time
  • Pictures from this period that showcase what happened as it happened
  • Interactive components that help make this period come alive
  • Testimonials from artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, and more who broke the racial barrier
  • Virtual exhibits that highlight more about these important events
  • Regular special exhibits that highlight different events every year

Sit-In Nation is one example of these special exhibits. It includes a deep look at the sit-in protests that happened throughout this movement. It included multiple banners with images and descriptions, a free digital version for the public, multiple discussions about these events, and much more. It all helped to bring more context to these struggles and highlight the importance of these events.

This museum also includes discussions of the impact of racism around the world, including apartheid in South Africa. Highlighting this connection helps to make it clear that racism is not just an American problem but one that impacts just about every country in the world. You can plan your visit around these events or check out the museum's in-depth examination of the equal rights movement.

Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson

This museum focuses on the theme “One Mississippi, Many Stories” and uses eight different galleries to highlight various people throughout this state's history. It includes the Civil Rights section that highlights the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the fall out from these extensive events.

Throughout the museum, you experience a vast timeline that highlights slavery, the Jim Crow era, the tragic history of lynching, and the fight for equal rights that took place throughout the state. You'll also learn about the Freedom Rider movement, including the individuals involved with it. You'll also hear about important people like Fannie Lou Hamer and Medgar Evers, people who don't get mentioned as often in history books. Highlighting their sacrifices helps to bring light to the unique challenges that they faced and how it impacted life in Mississippi.

Furthermore, the museum also includes an innovative section that highlights how far Mississippi has come during this time and what progress needs to be made. It also discusses how this movement impacted areas around the world, including spreading equal rights to other nations. Every year, this civil rights museum hosts an anniversary weekend that includes trackless train rides, a civil rights tour, family activities, live music, food trucks, guided tours, and more. These events help bring a lot of people to the museum and further boost its educational capability and brings important lesson to the very young people of Mississippi.

Final Thoughts from The Parking Spot

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