In 1963, Birmingham, Alabama was the epicenter of the American Civil Rights Movement. Activists like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Sr., and countless unnamed heroes gathered there to demand equality for all people, and to integrate all aspects of society. Now, more than 50 years later, as our country continues to wrestle with racial inequality, this critical chapter in America’s civil rights history is as important as ever.
U.S. Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-AL, recently took a significant step forward in ensuring the people, places, and events tied to this history are preserved and interpreted for generations to come. With the support of the entire Alabama congressional delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives, she introduced legislation, H.R. 4817, to create the Birmingham Civil Rights National Historical Park. The park would include historic landmarks such as 16th Street Baptist Church, Kelly Ingram Park, Bethel Baptist Church, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and the A. G. Gaston Motel, which the National Trust for Historic Preservation named a National Treasure in 2015. Birmingham Mayor William Bell has also been a strong proponent of the legislation.
Building on Congresswoman Sewell’s legislation and the advocacy of Mayor Bell, the City of Birmingham, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the National Parks Conservation Association, we are now urging Congress and President Obama to support Rep. Sewell’s legislation to create this Civil Rights National Park in Birmingham. Creation of this park while he is still in office would be a fitting tribute to his presidential legacy and to our understanding of our nation’s struggle and progress toward racial equality. Thanks for joining the City of Birmingham and the National Trust for Historic Preservation in our call for a National Civil Rights Park in Birmingham!
I am writing to request that you support legislation to create a Birmingham Civil Rights National Historical Park.
H.R. 4817, recently introduced by Congresswoman Terri Sewell, (D-AL) would create a national park to link together and interpret the places where significant events in the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s occurred.
The proposed park would span portions of the historic Birmingham Civil Rights District and include the following sites:
- 16th Street Baptist Church, target of September 1963 bombing that killed four young girls during a Bible study. This act of domestic terrorism became a galvanizing force for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- Bethel Baptist Church, the church of Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth. The church, its parishioners and leadership played pivotal roles in the 1961 Freedom Ride and the "Project C" protests that challenged segregation in Birmingham in 1963.
- A.G. Gaston Motel, built in 1954, which has become a "historic monument to black entrepreneurship" in a time of racial segregation. Owned by a prominent African American businessman, the motel served as home base for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The National Trust for Historic Preservation named it to its portfolio of National Treasures almost a year ago.
- Kelly Ingram Park, where protestors were violently disrupted by police dogs and powerful water cannons. Images of the brutal police response to peaceful protestors spread across the country, shocking the conscience of the nation and the world.
- Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which opened in 1992 as a center for the public and scholars to examine our country's Civil Rights history as well as broader subjects such as equality and race.
This National Park would not only recognize these critical places and events of a turning point in American history, but would also generate significant economic development in Birmingham.
National Parks are good for local economies. For every dollar invested in the National Park Service, about $5 is generated for local economies. On a national level, national parks support nearly $30 billion in economic activity every year and more than a quarter million private-sector jobs.
Please seize this opportunity to make a lasting contribution to the understanding and stewardship of our Civil Rights history by supporting legislation to create this National Park.
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