Selma to Montgomery: A Family Road Trip Honoring Martin Luther King, Jr

Like any country, American history includes some pretty dark days. But occasionally, a movement comes along that changes the course of the country. Teach your kids about the importance of the Civil Rights Movement by retracing significant steps of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the early 1960’s.

You've likely seen movies or read books about the Civil Rights Movement, but there’s nothing like experiencing the struggle for integration and equality firsthand to give your kids a greater understanding of history. As a Baptist pastor and the leader of Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), King used nonviolent means to protest segregation in the south and call for equal rights for African Americans.

Ebenezer Baptist Church via L. Kragt Bakker /

Birth of a Leader

Start your trip in Atlanta, Georgia, where Martin Luther King, Jr. started his own journey. Visit the 1895 Queen Anne style home where MLK was born and the national park around it at the Martin Luther King Jr. Historical Site, which covers a number of city blocks on both sides of the Atlanta Expressway. The free, half-hour tours of the home are 30 minutes long and led by a ranger. Tours are limited to 15 people and fill up quickly so come early in the day for your best chance.

Beside King’s house, check out the King Center for Nonviolent Protest, a legacy site to preserve the ideas of the great leader, started by King’s widow, Coretta. Pay your respects at King’s burial site, also on the grounds of the Center.

Next door is the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where little Martin was baptized as a child and sang in the choir while his father preached. It was also at this church that he gave his first sermon before being ordained a Baptist pastor at the age of 19. He would later be a co-pastor there with his father.

Before you leave, make sure to check out the Visitor’s Center, which has special exhibits and displays on peace and peaceful people.

Bed down before the next day’s travels at the JW Marriott Atlanta Buckhead, where kids under 12 eat free and spacious rooms and an indoor pool make for a great big city night before your next day of travels. There is a fee to park, however.

16th Street Baptist Church via Sean Pavone /

Protests, Imprisonment and the Ku Klux Klan

Drive west across Interstate 20 for two hours to Birmingham, Alabama, an important stop in King’s series of city campaigns against segregation and economic injustice. By the time the SCLC descended on Birmingham, a terrible tragedy had already occurred: the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, the local headquarters of the SCLC chapter, by the Ku Klux Klan.

The rebuilt church – now off of 16th Street – still holds regular services and offers tours that explore its significance in the life of the Civil Rights Movement. On the site of the bombed building, you can now explore the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute with exhibitions, tours, and special events that celebrate history and explore the future of civil rights in America.

Across the street, take a stroll through West Park, where King and many others organized boycotts, protests, and marches throughout the city. King was eventually jailed in Birmingham for three days, where he wrote a famous letter defending the principles of nonviolent protest. Read the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” to get the full effect.

Selma to Montgomery

Now make the two-hour drive south to Selma, where the SCLC and King’s Freedom Riders began their protest march to Alabama’s capital, Montgomery. This march, held in protest of the public officials who were withholding voter registration from black citizens started and was thwarted by police violence at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965; later dubbed, “Bloody Sunday.”

Visit the National Voting Rights Museum just over the bridge to learn how the march at Selma led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act later in 1965. As you take the Selma to Montgomery Historic Trail, a 50-mile trek that the protesters walked, to learn personal stories of the marchers by stopping at the National Parks historic sites along the way. The marchers’ campsites, including Tent City in Lowndes, and St. Jude City, just outside of Montgomery, are marked stops along the trail.

Once you arrive in Montgomery, head to the Civil Rights Memorial Center to pay your respects to the movement and then head for the goodies: Montgomery is home to more landmarks of the Civil Rights era than any other city.

You can sit at Rosa Parks’ bench and tour the Rosa Parks Museum or visit the church at which King was pastor, Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church. Near the church, visit the Dexter Parsonage Museum, where King and his wife made themselves at home while organizing the bus boycott in Montgomery.

It might be time for your family to make yourselves comfy for the night, too. Check in to Homewood Suites, where your family can spread out in large suites with full kitchens. Hot breakfast is free for all, and parking is included in the rate as well. Rest up, because your final day of driving is a full five hours.

National Civil Rights Museum via Mark Van Scyoc /

The End of the Road

Head northwest to Memphis, Tennessee, where Martin Luther King, Jr. would breathe his last breaths at the Lorraine Motel before he was assassinated. The hotel was later closed, but his room, 306, was preserved exactly as he last saw it. Now, the National Civil Rights Museum stands at the site, paying homage to King and the other leaders of the movement. The extensive museum was the first of its kind in the country, and perhaps the most extensive and inspiring of the museums on your road trip. It’s a fitting last stop on a journey to recount the lasting impact of one man’s short 39 years.

Will you take on a Civil Rights tour with the family? What iconic places will you visit? Share with us!

Tags : travel   atlanta   georgia   birmingham   alabama   memphis   tennessee   

Ruth Zakarai
Dream trip