The Civil Rights Movement in the United States was a defining era in the history of our nation. It was a cultural war to win the hearts and minds of some and the equality under the law of others. As in any war, lives were lost and martyrs created.
The achievements and memory of those martyrs are honored at the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, AL.
Conceived in 1988, the commission to design the monument was given to Maya Lin, creator of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. She was inspired by a phrase that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used in several speeches, including his "I Have a Dream" speech. It is a paraphrase from the Book of Amos and says, "until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream."
Lin created a timeline of major events of the Movement and the lives and deaths of those who had been influential. Members of the Southern Poverty Law Center researched deaths for consideration searching for victims who fit at least one of three criteria: "They were murdered because they were active in the movement; they were killed as acts of terror aimed at intimidating blacks and civil rights activists; or, their deaths, like that of Emmett Till, helped galvanize the movement by demonstrating the brutality faced by African Americans in the South."
They came up with forty individuals who fit the bill, ranging in age from 11 to 66. Eight of them were white while the others were all black. "They came from all walks of life – students, farmers, ministers, truck drivers, a homemaker and a Nobel laureate." The monument was dedicated on Nov. 5, 1989 in front of 6000 people.
The monument is a circular black granite table. Events and names are carved in the top, radiating from the center like the hands of a clock. Water bubbles from the center and flows evenly across the surface. Behind it stands a black granite wall with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s quote from Amos.
Adjacent to the Civil Rights Memorial is the Civil Rights Memorial Center which contains exhibits about the events and people of the movement. It also includes a 56-seat theater, a classroom and the Wall of Tolerance which displays the names of more than half a million people who have pledged to take a stand against hate and work for justice and tolerance in their daily lives. Visitors can also take the pledge and add their names to the wall.
"By placing my name on the Wall of Tolerance, I pledge to take a stand against hate, injustice and intolerance. I will work in my daily life for justice, equality and human rights - the ideals for which the Civil Rights martyrs died."
The Civil Rights Memorial is set in an open plaza, accessible to the public 24 hours a day free of charge. There is a nominal fee for entry into the Civil Rights Memorial Center. Check the website for times and fees.
Civil Rights Memorial
400 Washington Avenue
Telephone: (334) 956-8200