Tuscaloosa’s Civil Rights History Marked
Learning about Tuscaloosa’s civil rights history is as easy as putting one foot in front of the other.
Officially unveiled in June 2019, the 18 steps Tuscaloosa Civil Rights Historic Trail documents some of the city’s defining moments in the fight for racial equality.
To create the trail, the Tuscaloosa Civil Rights History Task Force, formed in 2016, interviewed dozens of residents who took part in civil rights protests and demonstrations in the 1950s and 1960s. .
Sites on the trail range from the old prison where black people were lynched, to the church that was the focal point of civil rights activity in the 1960s and places that commemorate black artistic achievements.
Each stop on the trail is designated by a circular green marker with a handprint and number inside.
If you can’t visit in person, here’s a digital map to explore instead
Here are the stories behind the trail:
1. Capitol Park (2800 Sixth St.): A building that once stood in Capitol Park and served as a meeting place for the Alabama Legislative Assembly. In 1833, the legislature enacted slave codes to regulate the lives of slaves, as well as free people of color. These codes were intended to curb the growing number of slaves fleeing their masters, prevent slave rebellions, and maximize profits for slave owners.
2. Lynching and Old Jail (2803 Sixth St.): From 1856 to 1890, the building served as the county jail and later as a boarding house. In addition, eight lynchings took place in front of this building between 1844 and 1933.
3. Druid Theater and Hollywood (2400 block of University Boulevard): The old Druid Theater in downtown Tuscaloosa was once a whites-only theater. After the Civil Rights Act was passed in July 1964, a group of black teenagers at the theater were met by a mob of angry white people who threw bottles and rocks at them. It was also the same theater where actor Jack Palance faced another white crowd. Speculation at the time as to why Palance was harassed was either the belief that he was in Tuscaloosa to support civil rights or that he himself appeared to be a black man because of his tan and because that he was escorting a black woman to the theater.
4. The Mob at the Flagpole (2410 University Blvd.): Located at the corner of Greensboro Avenue and University Boulevard, there was once a flagpole that served as a meeting place for its citizens. This is where an angry mob met a group of black people protesting the incorporation of the University of Alabama in 1956.
5. Woolworth’s and Sit-Ins (2319 University Blvd.): Sit-ins were a form of peaceful protest during the civil rights era in the 1950s and 1960s. One incident occurred on June 4, 1964, when ‘A group of black protesters began marching past the old Woolworth’s at 2319 University Blvd.
6. First Black Legislator shandy jones (2300 block of University Boulevard): Born a slave in 1816, Shandy Jones founded the first black Methodist church in Tuscaloosa, now known as Hunter Chapel AME Zion. He was also the first black legislator elected from Tuscaloosa to the Alabama House of Representatives, serving from 1868 to 1870.
7. Kress Building and Bus Boycott (2223 University Blvd.): There used to be a bus stop located at the old Kress Building on University Boulevard. On May 5, 1962, three black Stillman College students and a high school student were ordered by a white bus driver to give way to two white passengers. The students then argued with the driver and were later arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. After years of other documented harassment of riders, members of the black community began boycotting city buses until a non-discrimination policy was put in place.
8. Paul R. Jones Museum (2308 Sixth St.): Paul R. Jones was an art collector who was denied admission to law school at the University of Alabama in 1949 because he was black. Over the years, Jones amassed a large collection of black-created artwork, then donated 1,700 pieces to the University of Alabama in 2008 for an estimated $5 million. The Paul R. Jones Museum was established in 2011 to display the collection.
9. Alston Building and the KKK (2400 Sixth St.): The Alston Building was Tuscaloosa’s first skyscraper, standing over seven stories tall and located on the site of the former Tuscaloosa County Courthouse in corner of Greensboro Avenue and Sixth Street. The building once housed the office of Robert Shelton, Imperial Magician of the United Klans of America.
ten. Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center (620 Greensboro Ave.): Named after Tuscaloosa-born jazz and blues singer Dinah Washington, this center serves as a hangout for many bands.
11. Tuscaloosa County Courthouse and Walkers (714 Greensboro Ave.): For years, the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse had fountains and separate bathrooms. On June 9, 1964, a group of black protesters marched past the courthouse to press for integration, but were violently met by Tuscaloosa law enforcement officers. The incident is known as the “Bloody Tuesday.
12. Greensboro Avenue Churches (800 Greensboro Avenue): The first churches on Greensboro Avenue were seen to advocate for race separation. In fact, First Baptist pastor Basil Manley was a slaveholder and later became president of the University of Alabama. After the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves, many blacks began to form their own churches after their predominantly white churches refused to recognize them as full worshipers. This led to the formation of churches such as Hunter Chapel, First African Baptist, Bailey Tabernacle Christian Methodist Episcopal, and Salem Presbyterian Church.
13. Blue Front District (811 23rd Ave.): Located near the corner of 23rd Avenue and Seventh Street, this neighborhood thrived for black business owners who had been denied access to major shopping malls from the city. These stores have become an important space for the black community.
14. Bailey Tabernacle Baptist Church (1117 23rd Ave.): Founded in 1870, Bailey Tabernacle played a vital role during the civil rights struggle in Tuscaloosa. For years, it served as a meeting place for organizers and civil rights supporters.
15. Hunter Chapel AME Zion Church (1105 22nd Ave.): Hunter Chapel AME is the oldest organized black church in Tuscaloosa, founded in 1866.
16. First African Baptist Church (2621 Stillman Blvd.): First African Baptist was the church of Reverend TY Rogers, Jr., one of Tuscaloosa’s most prominent civil rights leaders. Martin Luther King delivered a sermon at the church in 1964.
17. Murphy Collins House (2601 Paul W. Bryant Drive): This building served as the office of Will J. Murphy, Tuscaloosa’s first embalmer and black mortar. After Murphy’s death, local teacher Sylvia Collins bought the house and later sold it to the city in 1986. Today it is the Murphy African American Museum.
18. Howard Linton Hair Salon (1311 TY Rogers Jr. Ave.): This barbershop served as the center of many gathering places in the black community. Its owner was the late Reverend Thomas Linton, who was actively involved in the city’s civil rights movement by organizing a grocery store boycott and meeting with organizers to enact change.
Contact Ken Roberts at [email protected].