Image credit: The 16th Street Baptist Church, site of a deadly bombing in 1963 and now a part of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. ©RORY DOYLE

Summer 2022

An Alabama Album

Images of struggle and persistence at five national park sites.

“It is impossible to not picture Alabama when you envision civil rights in America,” advocate Phillip Howard says in “54 Miles to Home,” a short film about the families who invited protesters to camp on their land during the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery. “Five counties in Alabama have some of the most iconic moments in the history of not only civil rights, but America.”


The Park Service produced a podcast, “We Will Rise: National Parks and Civil Rights,” to share the views of authors, poets and Freedom Riders. Find current episodes here.

The National Park Service recognizes that history and other stories of struggle and persistence at five Alabama park sites: Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, Freedom Riders National Monument, Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site and Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.

These sites collectively cast a light on strands of African American history that are not very well known, says Alan Spears, NPCA’s senior director of cultural resources, who was closely involved in the campaign to establish the Birmingham park. Standing in places where horrific acts of violence took place is profound and disturbing, and “it’s changed me,” Spears says. He feels anger, but also an abiding gratitude for those who suffered and advocated for change. “We made progress based on the commitment and force of vision these people had in the ’40s and ’50s and ’60s,” he says.



Spears makes several other important points: When a park is designated (as Freedom Riders and Birmingham were in 2017), it underscores how significant the events were — not only for locals but “for everyone in the country and for most of the people on the planet.” Also, these Alabama parks lift up the everyday people whose names are not widely recognized but who were essential foot soldiers in the civil rights movement. Finally, reflecting honestly on the past can lead to healing. “We want to be sure we are telling these stories even if they are not always pleasant,” he says. “We need to know about them, and dare I say it, having learned about these experiences, to make sure we don’t repeat past mistakes.” Or as the Rev. Freddy Rimpsey, a civil rights activist whose portrait appears below, puts it: “When the wind blows and the storm comes, we can stand firmly because we know our history.”


Rory Doyle is a Mississippi-based photographer. To see more of his work, visit his site.

In February, the magazine sent photographer Rory Doyle to Alabama to capture images of these five sites. He took photos of buildings, museums, murals, sculptures, memorials and visitors. He went to the cities and towns where protesters demonstrated and to the countryside where they marched. And he photographed some of the people who were intimately connected to these monumental events, including a Freedom Rider and a survivor of the bombing at Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four young girls.

Sometimes, a sculpture glimmering in the sun or the face of a witness can convey something that is beyond words. On the pages that follow are the stories Doyle uncovered during hundreds of miles of travel through the state of Alabama.


This article appeared in the Summer 2022 issue

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