Civil Rights History Trail

Below explains the 18 stops that make up the Tuscaloosa Civil Rights History Trail Tour. Each stop, which can be seen on a map here, explains a person, group or facility that contributed to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Most notably, these stops all share a focus on the events of Bloody Tuesday. 

The Trail begins at Capitol Park and includes the following stops:

  1. Capitol Park: Back in 1826 to 1846, when Tuscaloosa was the capital of Alabama, Capitol Park served as the grounds for the governmental buildings that lead our state. What is left of the old capitol building still stands today: two columns and a bit of foundation. The old stone building, which was used as the Alabama Central Female College thereafter, burned down in 1929 due to faulty electrical work. Capitol Park was supposed to be the final stop of the Bloody Tuesday march, which was cut short by police and white protesters at the First African Baptist Church on June 9, 1964.
  2. The Old Jail: Across the street from Capitol Park is the Old Tuscaloosa County Jail. It was built in 1856 and was known as the strongest jail in the Southeast. In 2017, the Equal Justice Initiative visited Tuscaloosa to erect a historical marker in front of the jail honoring the lives of black men who have been lynched in Tuscaloosa’s history. The marker lists nine names of people who were lynched in Tuscaloosa County from 1884 to 1933. The research conducted that led to this marker being established was accomplished by UA professor John Giggie and the students of his spring 2017 class, entitled “Southern Memory: Lynching in the South.”
  3. Druid Theatre: Right after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law and African Americans began venturing to lunch counters and bus seats that had otherwise been unavailable to them until July 2, 1964, a popular movie and television star was rolling into Tuscaloosa. On July 9, Jack Palance was visiting family in Northport when he and his wife and children took an afternoon to see a movie at Druid Theatre. There, he signed autographs and shook the hands of all colors, and when word got around that an outsider was in the streets of downtown Tuscaloosa pushing the racial envelope too far for everyone’s liking, a mob ensued. Complete with busted windows, the Ku Klux Klan, nearly 1,000 white people crowding the theatre and surely every racial slur in the book, Palance and his family made a hasty escape before the mob turned into a full-on riot. Police were required to diffuse the situation with fire hoses and tear gas. 
  4. The Flag Pole: The flagpole’s main mission was to serve as a memoriam for the city of Tuscaloosa’s war dead. However, it was also a site of protest during the Civil Rights Movement. Sitting at Greensboro Avenue and University Boulevard, the flagpole saw protests for Autherine Lucy’s admission to the University of Alabama in 1956. According to the Tuscaloosa Civil Rights Trail website, “On February 4, 1956, more than 1,000 people marched downtown from the university, singing “Dixie.” They came to confront integration at the exact location Confederate cadets faced Union soldiers 91 years earlier.”
  5. Woolworth Sit-ins:From the Tuscaloosa Civil Rights Trail Tour’s website: “Blacks seeking to protest segregation often turned to sit-ins. Popularized in North Carolina in 1960 as a nonviolent way to call attention to the righteousness of their cause, protestors would ask to be served at all-white lunch counters. If refused, the protestors would simply sit quietly and wait. Violence often came next, as angry whites jeered the activists, threw food at them, and even beat them at times.”
  6. Shandy Jones: While Shandy Jones was originally born in Huntsville, his work as a trailblazer for the black Tuscaloosa community is as versatile and far-reaching as the better-known Civil Rights heroes of his time. Born into slavery by a mixed-race mother and a white, plantation owner father in 1816, Jones was emancipated at age 3 and lived in Tuscaloosa and later, Mobile for the majority of his life. Throughout his career, Jones was a well-known barber in the community, but began delving in the real estate business on the side. This led him to becoming the wealthiest African American Tuscaloosan of the time. Jones founded Hunter Chapel AME Zion church, pastored for 15 years at Little AME Zion Church, was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 1868, and he was the first black elected official from the county. Today, Jones is buried in Mobile’s Friends of Magnolia Cemetery. The cemetery staff, upon hearing about his life story after G. Ward Hubbs researched Jones for Hubbs’ then-upcoming book “Klansman, Carpetbagger, Scalawag, and Freedman,” commissioned a new headstone to be made for his grave. The headstone now reads: “Born a Slave, He Championed Freedom in the Church and the AL Legislature.”
  7. The Kress Building and Bus Boycotts: From the Tuscaloosa Civil Rights Trail Tour’s website: “In front of the Kress store the Druid City Transit Company maintained a popular bus stop. On May 5, 1962, six years after the federal courts had ruled segregation on public transportation to be unconstitutional, a white Druid Transit Co. bus driver ordered three black Stillman students and a high school student to give their seats to two white riders. An argument ensued. Rev. Willie Herzfeld, a Lutheran minister and civil rights activist, was summoned for help by other Stillman students who ran from the bus — Merjo Merriweather, Samuel Pitts, and William Jones. His efforts were not successful and the four students were charged and jailed for disorderly conduct. That night the students were bailed out by Dr. Woody Robinson, a local black physician. The same evening The Ministers Alliance met and formalized the Tuscaloosa Citizens Action Committee (TCAC), and elected Reverend Herzfeld as president. The TCAC inaugurated the civil rights movement in Tuscaloosa.”
  8. Paul R. Jones Museum: This museum houses one of the largest collections of African American art in the world. Donated by Paul R. Jones himself, the collection is comprised of works that help to give a platform to artists of all levels of distinction. The collection features American artists who have created works centering around Alabama, African Americans and American culture. From the Paul R. Jones Museum website: “Mr. Jones saw art as a tool — one that could build stronger communities, strengthen individuals, and create a means of communication. Mr. Jones challenged what it meant to be a collector and a supporter of the arts. He purchased works from unknown artists as well as those that are well-known today. He hoped that his collecting would inspire others to collect works in the same way.” 
  9. The Alston Building: Looming above the rest of the Druid City, the Alston Building was Tuscaloosa’s first skyscraper or the highest building that could be considered a skyscraper in the otherwise “short” town. The building was built on a dirt road, now Greensboro Avenue, and named for Samuel Fitts Alston, a well-known businessman. It was a showstopper in terms of social venues of the time. With law office space, a ballroom, rooftop garden and more, the Alston Building was a hub for the Tuscaloosa elite to gather. But, it hides a dark history on its fourth floor: The Ku Klux Klan occupied office space in the building during the 20th century. Imperial Wizard Robert Shelton kept his KKK robes hung up adjacent to a Confederate flag and a picture of former Gov. George Wallace in the office, a harrowing reminder of what the KKK stood for. 
  10. Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center: The center is named for Dinah Washington, a Tuscaloosa native and trailblazer in the city’s performing arts scene. Her work as a gospel and jazz musician astounded celebrities like Billie Holiday and Lionel Hampton. The Cultural Arts Center, named for her in 2013 when it celebrated its grand opening, is operated by The Arts Council and is a space to host galleries, shows, special events and performances. 
  11. Tuscaloosa County Courthouse: The county courthouse, which sits on Greensboro Avenue in the heart of downtown Tuscaloosa, opened April 1964 as the eighth county courthouse in Tuscaloosa’s history. The building has seen quite a few demonstrations in its day, from Civil Rights marches to presidential candidate protests to women’s rallies. But, one of the most notable events in Tuscaloosa Civil Rights history is Bloody Tuesday, wherein pro-integration activists marched at the courthouse in protest of the still-segregated water fountains and restrooms housed inside, despite the Civil Rights Act being enforced a week prior. 
  12. Greensboro Avenue Churches: From the Tuscaloosa Civil Rights Trail Tour’s website: “In Tuscaloosa, four Christian denominations established churches on or near Greensboro Avenue before the city itself was formally incorporated. These churches typically preached a version of Christianity that permitted slavery. They incorporated black members during slavery to varying degrees but always under white control and as unequal members. Some churches held services for blacks, others held biracial services but forced blacks to sit apart from whites. Importantly, most blacks worshipped on their own and out of the sight of the master, where they testified to their worth and dignity in front of God.”
  13. The Bluefront District: This pocket of town sits at 23rd Avenue and Seventh Street in downtown Tuscaloosa. The Diamond Theater was built here, the first Tuscaloosa theater for the African American community. Now, the Bluefront District is the home of the Tuscaloosa Intermodal Facility, First Baptist Church and other local businesses and restaurants. 
  14. Bailey Tabernacle CME Church: Bailey Tabernacle Christian Methodist Episcopal Church was incorporated on December 20, 1965. Its members were comprised of the last 45 African American members who left First Methodist Church of Tuscaloosa to form their own church. According to its website, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church “is a post-war Methodist body, organized by African Americans after the Civil War. It was nurtured in the cradle of a vision of service to a recently freed, unlearned, pauperized, distraught and oppressed people, stilling suffering form the scars of slavery.”
  15. Hunter Chapel AME Zion Church: Founded by Shandy Jones, Hunter Chapel AME Zion Church still stands today at 22nd Avenue in downtown Tuscaloosa. 
  16. First African Baptist Church: This church, whose head pastor during the Civil Rights Era was Rev. TY Rodgers, was the setting for Bloody Tuesday’s beginning and end. Black Tuscaloosans met at the church the night of June 8, 1964 to plan their march. The police caught wind of the plans and, knowing the marchers were planning the event without a permit, met them the morning of June 9 to stop it. The marchers persisted, walking in rows of two peacefully out the church doors, which led to police and white residents beating, tear gassing and spraying the crowd with fire hoses. The event, known as Bloody Tuesday, left 33 hospitalized and 94 arrested.
  17. Murphy-Collins House: Will Murphy was Tuscaloosa’s first African American mortician, doing business in the town in the early 1900s. He contracted this house to be built as his private home, which he shared with his wife Laura B. Murphy. The materials used to build the home were salvaged from the remains of the Capitol building fires (now known as the remains that rest in Capitol Park) that took place in 1929. The Murphys eventually sold the house to Sylvia Collins, who used it as a personal home for a while, but then began to rent it out to the Phoenix House, a nonprofit that focused on helping alcoholics recover from their addictions. The structure, a two-story bungalow painted a soft, distinctive olive green, now houses the Murphy African American Museum. Inside are memorabilia from the Murphys’ lives in the house, as well as artifacts pertaining to black culture and how well-to-do African Americans lived in the early 20th century. The house is located at the corner of Paul W. Bryant Drive and Lurleen B. Wallace Boulevard North. 
  18. Howard-Linton Barbershop: Still in operation today, the recently-renamed Linton’s Barbershop was a refuge for Autherine Lucy-Foster, the first African American to attend the University of Alabama. Lucy-Foster lasted three days at the University until she resigned, due to the mobs and protests that plagued her 72 hours at the school. One of the days included white protestors throwing eggs and rotten food at Lucy as she walked to her class, surrounded by bodyguards and policemen. Lucy-Foster was rushed to The Alabama Citizen, a black-owned newspaper located on 35th Street (now T.Y. Rogers Jr Avenue). Two doors down was the barbershop, which at the time also served as a beauty parlor. The beauticians there cleaned Lucy-Foster up and kept her calm and comfortable until it was safe to leave. Today, the shop stands as a living museum, with antiques lining the walls and even more stories told by the man himself, Rev. Thomas Linton.

For full details, visuals and more regarding these stops and the mission of the Tuscaloosa Civil Rights Trail Tour, visit civilrightstuscaloosa.org/trail.

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