2018 World Monuments Watch
The U.S. Civil Rights movement was a long-fought struggle for justice and social change. In the 1950s and 1960s, in Alabama and throughout the American South, Civil Rights activists demanded the desegregation of public spaces, equality in education, the right to vote without obstruction, and protections against discrimination in employment and housing. Throughout Alabama, churches and other meeting spaces, private houses, and public accommodations survive as physical reminders of this story.
While some are well-known landmarks and others have been turned into museums, many more sites associated with the Civil Rights movement are not prominently recognized. They are located in Montgomery, the birthplace of the civil rights movement in Alabama; Selma, the battleground in the fight to secure and protect voting rights for African-Americans; and throughout the state of Alabama and the South. Now, site owners, stewards, advocates, and other stakeholders are coming together through the leadership of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) to discuss and collectively address the challenges facing the protection and preservation of those places. Today, many sites, public and private, must cope with limited resources for maintenance. Places of worship see declining membership, while homes owned by the descendants of Civil Rights heroes were never intended to be managed as heritage destinations. In the decades since the Civil Rights movement, many sites have had to contend with the harmful impacts of modern planning, including urban renewal and the interstate highway program, which upended entire communities surrounding them. And whereas several sites have been able to rely on the African American Civil Rights Grant Program of the U.S. National Park Service in 2016 and 2017, future funding for this vital grant program is now at risk of being lost.
The 2018 World Monuments Watch places a spotlight on the local efforts of the BCRI and encourages further stakeholder engagement. The creation of a consortium of sites will maximize the effect of individual efforts to achieve sustainable preservation, and has the power to demonstrate the positive social role of identifying, recognizing, and conserving these socially significant places. Lastly, the 2018 World Monuments Watch calls for greater recognition of the heritage of other movements for equality that have left their mark on American society, in order to ensure that the places we preserve tell the full story of our diversity.
Following the Watch
Following inclusion on the Watch, a consortium was formed to identify and steward the sites, now known as the Alabama African-American Civil Rights Heritage Sites Consortium (AAACRHSC). In September 2019, WMF in collaboration with the BCRI and the AAACRHSC launched an oral history project documenting the 20 sites in the consortium that played significant roles in the African-American struggle for freedom—not just during the Civil Rights Movement, but beginning in Reconstruction. Voices of Alabama allows users to explore each site from the AAACRHSC through video, image, timeline, and map content.