anthem that set America marching towards racial equality. By
tracing the sources of song, this pathbreaking film uncovers
the diverse strands of social history which flowed together to
form the Civil Rights movement.
by Harry Belafonte We
an isolated wood frame church deep in the Sea Islands of South
Carolina where spirituals like "I Will Overcome"
helped blacks endure the long and brutal years of slavery.
Veterans of a 1945 tobacco strike in nearby Charleston explain
how it seemed natural to make "We Will Overcome"
their rallying cry.
Myles Horton's Highlander Center in Tennessee, white folk
singers like Pete Seeger and Guy Carawan first encountered the
song from the strikers and changed the lyrics to "We
Shall Overcome." These "Peoples' troubadours"
began teaching the song to the young activists of the Civil
Rights movement. Over historical footage of themselves during
the Sixties, the SNCC Freedom Singers. Julian Bond and Andrew
Young reminisce about what this song meant during the sit-ins,
voter registration drives and protest marches of those heroic
years. We hear popular folk singers Peter, Paul and Mary
introduce the song to audiences across the country and Joan
Baez sing it at the 1963 March on Washington.
film concludes with an inspiring montage of peace, antinuclear
and environmental activists around the world singing "We
Shall Overcome." In one moving scene, Bishop Desmond Tutu
of South Africa sings the song and adds. "When we sing
'We Shall Overcome,' what we will overcome is injustice, is
apartheid, is separation - all that is dehumanizing."
films have chronicled the events and personalities of the
Civil rights movement; We Shall Overcome goes directly
to the unique vision which moved millions. As Bernice Reagon
says, "Every time you hear the song...you're talking
about people coming together, organizing, so they can
transform their lives."
We hold these
truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and
the pursuit of Happiness.
Thomas Jefferson's stirring
words, written in 1776 in our Declaration of Independence,
defined the promise of America--freedom and equality for all.
The words rang hollow, however, for the millions of African
Americans held in slavery prior to the Civil War, and later
denied political, economic, educational, and social equality
by unjust laws and social customs. This National Register of
Historic Places Travel Itinerary tells the powerful story of
how and where the centuries-long struggle of African Americans
to achieve the bright promise of America culminated in the
mid-20th century in a heroic campaign we call the modern civil
rights movement. Many of the places where these seminal events
occurred, the churches, schools, homes, and neighborhoods, are
listed in the National Register of Historic Places and are
included in this itinerary.
Throughout history, African
Americans resisted their slavery and later second-class
citizenship. Opposition took many forms, from the passive
resistance of slaves who performed poor work for their
masters, to slave revolts, to slaves escaping to freedom on
Railroad, to African Americans' participation in the
Abolitionist movement and their joining the Union army during
the Civil War. During this trying period African Americans
preserved their heritage and social institutions.
Following the Civil War this
country moved to extend equality to African Americans with the
passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (1865) which
outlawed slavery, the 14th Amendment (1868) which made
citizens of all persons born in this country and afforded
equal protection of the laws to all citizens, and the 15th
Amendment (1870) which provided the right to vote to all
citizens, regardless of race (In 1920, the 19th Amendment was
ratified giving women the right to vote). This promising start
soon faltered during the tensions of Reconstruction
(1865-1877) when federal armies occupied the South and
Bus Station, Durham, North Carolina, 1940
Photograph by Jack Delano
Photograph courtesy of Library of Congress,
The genuine reform impulse of
Reconstruction was the "first" civil rights
movement, as the victorious North attempted to create the
conditions whereby African Americans could freely and fully
participate in this country as citizens. It was a noble
experiment in bi-racial harmony, and, had it succeeded, there
probably would have been no need for a "second"
civil rights movement.
Exhausted by the efforts and
divisions of the Civil War and Reconstruction and the longing
for the country to reunite, the white advocates of equality
were overcome by the forces of reaction, and the fate of
African Americans was turned over to the individual states.
Many states adopted restrictive laws which enforced
segregation of the races and the second-class status of
African Americans. The courts, the police, and groups such as
the Ku Klux Klan all enforced these discriminatory practices.
African Americans responded in
a variety of ways. Booker T. Washington (1856-1915), the early
20th century's leading advocate of black education, stressed
industrial schooling for African Americans and gradual social
adjustment rather than political and civil rights. The
charismatic reformer Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) called for
racial separatism and a "Back-to-Africa"
colonization program. But it was a different path, one that
emphasized that African Americans were in this country to stay
and would fight for their freedom and political equality, that
led to the modern civil rights movement and is the focus of
this National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary.
In visiting the 49 places
listed in the National Register for their association with the
modern civil rights movement, as well as the
Selma-to-Montgomery March route--a Department of
Transportation designated "All-American
Road" and a National Park Service designated National
Historic Trail--two things will be apparent. First,
although they had white supporters and sympathizers, the
modern civil rights movement was designed, led, organized, and
manned by African Americans, who placed themselves and their
families on the front lines in the struggle for freedom. Their
heroism was brought home to every American through newspaper,
and later, television reports as their peaceful marches and
demonstrations were violently attacked by law enforcement
officers armed with batons, bullwhips, fire hoses, police
dogs, and mass arrests. The second characteristic of the
movement is that it was not monolithic, led by one or two men.
Rather it was a dispersed, grass-roots campaign that attacked
segregation in many different places using many different
tactics. On this itinerary you will learn about the people and
places associated with one of the most important chapters in
The properties included in the
itinerary are related to the modern civil rights movement,
that is, with a few exceptions, the events of the post-World
War II period, and especially the 1950s and 1960s. The focus
of the itinerary is the African American freedom struggle, and
does not include the attempts of other minority groups, such
as Asians, Hispanics, or Native Americans, to obtain equality.
The list of properties included in the itinerary does not
represent all of the sites important in the civil rights
movement; a number of these places have yet to be recognized
by National Register listing. The 49 properties have been
nominated by the States and listed in the National Register
over the years, and do not represent a systematic effort to
survey, identify, and list all important civil rights sites in
the National Register.
This travel itinerary was
prepared as a cooperative project between the U.S. Department
of the Interior, National Park Service, and the U.S.
Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration.
Both agencies have formally recognized the historic
significance of the Selma-to-Montgomery march of 1965.
Congress has designated, and the National Park Service
administers, the Selma-to-Montgomery National Historic Trail
based on the route's national significance in American
history. The Federal Highway Administration has designated the
march route as an All-American Road.