On the Road to Freedom: Understanding Civil Rights Through Our National Parks and Heritage Areas (WAITLIST ONLY)

Join NPCA experts on this remarkable journey through some of the most significant sites associated with American civil rights. Along the way, we will have special opportunities to meet with NPCA partners, local historians and even some of the faithful activists known as foot soldiers who actively played a role in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Throughout this transformative NPCA small-group tour, we’ll make our way from Birmingham to Memphis, immersing ourselves in the extraordinary stories and culture of this defining period in American history.

Download Detailed Trip Brochure (1 MB pdf)

Available Dates:

November 13-18, 2024

6 days/5 nights

Minimum/Maximum: 10 guests/17 guests


Why Travel with NPCA?

Our goal is to offer premium educational travel itineraries in the places we know best: America’s national parks.

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Itinerary Highlights

  • Engage with NPCA experts and partners to learn about the current efforts to establish a new national park site honoring the legacies of Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley
  • Spend time with Carolyn McKinstry, a 16th Street Baptist Church bombing survivor, and Joanne Bland, the youngest person to have been jailed during any civil rights demonstration during the 1950s and ‘60s
  • Embark on a journey through the Mississippi Delta and see first-hand why NPCA is prioritizing necessary protections for the region’s abundance of civil rights history
  • Enjoy a special meeting with Keena Graham, superintendent of Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument in Jackson, Mississippi
  • Tour the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute with Charles Woods, the institute’s education director and trainer
  • Immerse yourself in the history of civil rights with Dr. R. Luckett, director of the Margaret Walker Center and an associate professor in the Department of History at Jackson State University
  • Consider the impact of blues on the Civil Rights Movement as you tour the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and meet privately with Jeff Kollath, executive director of the museum


Day 1: November 13 - Arrivals to Birmingham: Arrive in Birmingham, Alabama and make your way to the Elyton Hotel, built in 1906 during Birmingham’s golden era when it was one of the country’s great industrial and manufacturing centers. We will have a welcome reception, dinner and special speaking program at the hotel to kick off the trip.
Elyton Hotel (D)

Day 2: November 14 - Birmingham to Montgomery: We will begin with a visit to Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, a national park site that NPCA helped establish in 2017. An NPCA expert will guide you through the process of what it took to preserve the monumental histories of the people and places during this chapter of the Civil Rights Movement. We will visit four of the seven sites affiliated with the monument. Our first stop is Kelly Ingram Park, where we will meet with Carolyn McKinstry. At age 14, Carolyn was inside the 16th Street Baptist Church when a bomb killed four young girls as they prepared to sing in their choir on September 15, 1963. More than 8,000 mourners, including 800 clergymen of both races, attended the funeral. No city officials attended. Kelly Ingram Park was the site of civil rights rallies, demonstrations and confrontations in the 1960s. Sculptures throughout the park vividly depict police dogs and fire hose assaults on demonstrators, many of them children. A series of statues pay tribute to what happened here. We will cross the street to visit the interior of the 16th Street Baptist Church. Afterward, we will explore Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, an interactive museum that tells the story of the Civil Rights Movement with a focus on Birmingham, with Charles Woods, the institute’s education director and trainer.

Our last stop as part of the monument tour is the A.G. Gaston Motel, which stood at the center of several significant chapters of the Civil Rights Movement. This run-down motel will soon be repaired and annexed by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, with funds from the City of Birmingham and the National Park Service. The motel and institute will become the new Freedom Center, an educational hub that will focus on the Civil Rights Movement and other cultural topics.

Lunch will be at Ashley Macs located in the Pizitz Food Hall. After lunch, we will drive to Selma to meet with Joanne Bland. Beginning in her childhood, Bland was a highly active participant in the Civil Rights Movement and at 8 years old was the youngest person to have been jailed during any civil rights demonstration during the 1950s and ‘60s. We’ll then head to the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel in Montgomery to check in.

After we check in to the hotel, we’ll walk to Central Restaurant for dinner in a private room. Joining the group will be Josephine Bolling McCall, a retired nationally certified school psychologist. She was the first Black president of the Alabama Association of School Psychologists. After retirement, she served as director of the Alabama League for the Advancement of Education where she worked with six historically Black colleges to provide tutorial and other educational services to public school children. She currently serves as the president of The Elmore Bolling Foundation, which she founded to preserve the legacy of her father, a successful Black entrepreneur and philanthropist who defied all odds to create an integrated array of transportation and farming businesses in the Jim Crow South. His success led to his death by whites who routinely lynched Black competitors to maintain systems of white supremacy.
Renaissance Montgomery Hotel (B, L, D)

Day 3: November 15 - Montgomery: Today we’ll visit educational sites in Montgomery, Alabama and learn about NPCA’s efforts to establish the Alabama Black Belt National Heritage Area. This key heritage area will help connect people to the unforgettable stories of individuals in the Alabama Black Belt who risked and lost their lives during the civil rights era. Depart the hotel for a special visit of the Centennial Hill area with Dr. Valda Harris Montgomery, the daughter of Richard and Vera Harris who were closely connected to the leaders and activists of the movement. During the Civil Rights Movement their house, just four houses down from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s parsonage, was a haven for Freedom Riders and many others. We will continue on to the newly open Legacy Museum, situated on a site where enslaved people were once warehoused — a block from one of the most prominent slave auction spaces in America. The Legacy Museum, created by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), tells the history of racial inequality and economic injustice in the United States.

Lunch will be at Pannie George’s cafeteria-style restaurant. Following our meal, we’ll visit the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Created by the Equal Justice Initiative, it is the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved Black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence. The Memorial for Peace and Justice was conceived with the hope of creating a sober, meaningful site where people can gather and reflect on America’s history of racial inequality. In the evening, you’ll have free time and dinner on your own.
Renaissance Montgomery Hotel (B, L)

Day 4: November 16 - Montgomery to Jackson: We will drive to Jackson, Mississippi, with a rest stop en route. Upon arrival in Jackson, we’ll have lunch at the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO). In 1961, COFO was established as an umbrella organization to unify and meet the needs of an increasing presence of civil rights organizations in Mississippi, including the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and a host of local organizations. COFO’s office at 1017 John R. Lynch Street opened in 1963, and it served as the state headquarters for the modern Mississippi Civil Rights Movement. Civil rights historian Dr. R. Luckett, director of the Margaret Walker Center and an associate professor in the Department of History at Jackson State University, will join the group here. His expertise focuses on the modern Civil Rights Movement and the African American experience.

From here we’ll drive to the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. This state-funded museum provides an account of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi through a series of eight galleries with photographs, texts and recordings. The museum takes visitors through the European slave trade, Civil War, Reconstruction and the birth of Jim Crow, and continues on with the post-World War II era and a room dedicated to Emmett Till. Woven through the galleries is a parallel record of resistance from activists. The day ends with a tour of the home of Medgar and Myrlie Evers, with Keena Graham, superintendent of the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument. During more than two decades with the Department of the Interior, Graham has successfully built wide-ranging volunteer programs and helped bring more diverse audiences to the monument. After check-in at The Westin Jackson hotel, we’ll dine with Luckett and hear from Hezekiah Watkins, Mississippi’s youngest Freedom Rider who was arrested at age 13.
The Westin Jackson Hotel (B, L, D)

Day 5: November 17 - Cleveland: The day begins with a two-hour drive from Jackson through the flatlands of the Mississippi Delta to Cleveland, passing sites important to the legacy of Emmett Till. These sites include the first marker on the Mississippi Freedom Trail, which was placed in Money at the remains of the Bryant’s Grocery where Till allegedly whistled at a white woman, and Graball Landing, where Till’s body was recovered from the confluence of the Tallahatchie River and the Black Bayou. Our next stop is Sumner and the Emmett Till Interpretive Center/Sumner Court House, which tells the story of the Emmett Till tragedy and points a way toward racial healing. We will meet with Patrick Weens and Benjamin Saulsberry to learn of the apology resolution written by the community of Sumner. We’ll also discuss how NPCA is working with partners such as the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area and the Emmett Till Interpretive Center to commemorate the life and legacy of Emmett Till, Mamie Till-Mobley and the larger civil rights stories throughout the Mississippi Delta.

After lunch, we’ll drive 40 minutes to Mound Bayou, a town founded in 1887 by former slaves, with a vision that was revolutionary for its time. From the start, Mound Bayou was designed to be a self-reliant, autonomous, all-Black community. For decades, the community prospered, becoming famous for empowering its Black citizens in the cotton industry. Today, there are just a few businesses left and the population is down below 1,500, a fraction of what it once was. Here, we will meet Darryl and Hermon Johnson, NPCA partners and Mound Bayou natives, for a walking tour of Mound Bayou historic district, including TRM Howard House and Taborian Hospital built in 1940 by the largest Black construction company in the country — McKissack and McKissack Construction Company of Nashville, Tennessee.

Afterward, we will drive a short distance to Cleveland and the Cotton House, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel where we will share a farewell reflection dinner in a private room catered by the Delta Meat Market. With internationally influenced dishes rooted in Mississippi Delta culinary traditions, Delta Meat Market serves up the ground-breaking cuisine of James Beard Award nominated Chef Cole Ellis.
Cotton House, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel (B, L, D)

Day 6: November 18 — Memphis: After breakfast, we’ll drive two hours to Memphis and the Lorraine Motel, now the home of the National Civil Rights Museum. Walter and Loree Bailey bought the motel in 1945. Under the Baileys’ ownership, it became a modest safe haven for Black travelers and visitors who were welcomed with home-cooked meals. The sight of his eventual death, Martin Luther King Jr. stayed at the motel numerous times. After our moving visit, we’ll have lunch at Four Ways Restaurant, located in Soulsville. The afternoon will focus on Memphis’ music history with a visit to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, which provides an insight inside the civil rights story set within the Memphis music scene, and a talk with Jeff Kollath, the museum’s executive director. The day ends with drop offs at the airport.
(B, L)

Please note: Accommodations and activities are subject to change at any time due to unforeseen circumstances or circumstances beyond NPCA’s control.

MORE INFORMATION: For full details on this trip, including inclusions, exclusions, accommodations, terms and safety protocols, please download the detailed trip brochure.

Download Detailed Trip Brochure (1 MB pdf)

NPCA TRAVEL ELIGIBILITY: NPCA is the only independent, nonpartisan organization dedicated to advocacy on behalf of the National Park System. We are 100% privately funded and we rely on donations from individuals like you. One traveler per group must be an active NPCA member to participate in an NPCA trip. An annual membership starts at $15 per person. Please make dues payable to NPCA by check or credit card at npca.org.

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