This week our editor, Kealan Casey, shares with us her top civil rights sites that everyone should visit once in their life.
‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.’ (M.L.K.)
It’s a quotation that we heard countless times growing up, one you can probably hear being powerfully spoken by Dr. King himself in your own head, and nearly 60 years later it’s a dream we are still working towards today. Though 2020 was full of grim reminders that we still have a long way to go, out of it came incredible examples of growth, change, and inspiring moments that moved us a little bit further along the path of realizing Dr. King’s vision.
The good news is that with every generation, and as parents, we have the opportunity to go even further, to trudge down that trail with our children just a little bit more. This doesn’t happen by accident, though: we have the responsibility and significant task of talking and listening to our kids, and guiding them in creating this kinder, more inclusive world. Luckily, we are global-minded traveling parents and we have the world as our teacher and our unending resource!
Mark Twain once said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness”; we have all witnessed travel to be an incredible tool for sparking important conversations, eliciting joy and excitement, and unique opportunities to engage with our children. With that in mind, here are five inspiring civil rights sites to visit with your family. Each is appropriate for kids as young as preschoolers, and of course, have even more potential to dive deeper for older ones.
National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture. A wonderful stop while visiting different civil rights sites within the US.
Part of the Smithsonian Institute and located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., this museum is an incredibly comprehensive collection dedicated to the immense contributions of the Black community to the United States. From items found in an excavated sunken slave ship and belongings of Harriet Tubman to Chuck Berry’s red convertible and Kobe Bryant’s 2008 NBA Finals jersey, the museum leads you on a complex, fascinating, upsetting, moving, and ultimately inspiring journey through Black American history. Amazingly, the museum also offers a wonderful range of programs dedicated to young children starting from birth! Their “Cultural Cuddles” and “Toddling Treasures” classes are for newborns to threes, and they have regular pop-up activities for older children as well. You’ll leave here with worn out, happy babies and toddlers or older kids full of questions and looking at the world with eyes opened a bit wider. Likely yours, too.
César E. Chávez National Monument (Nuestra Señora Reina de La Paz), Keene, CA
This monument honors the work and legacy of one of the most important leaders in the movement for Latinx civil rights, César Chávez. Located at the former home of the Chicano labor leader and activist and headquarters for the United Farm Workers, the monument and memorial are about two hours north of Los Angeles and 30 miles south of Sequoia National Park, and is more than worthy of a visit as part of a southern California road trip.
Here among beautiful cactus gardens and fountains, you’ll learn about Chávez’s work to gain rights for farmworkers and laborers, the successful produce strikes of the 60s and 70s, and the work that the UFW continues today. Because this is part of the National Parks Service, kids can get a stamp in their parks passport and receive a badge, plus there are great educational resources on their website. As you drive among the surrounding farmland, it’s a perfect opportunity to talk to your kids about where fruit and veggies come from and how they get from there into their smoothies.
Stonewall National Monument, New York, NY
The Stonewall National Monument is the first national monument dedicated to LGBTQ+ history. Located in the heart of Greenwich Village, the monument is directly across from the Stonewall Inn, the site of the Stonewall Riots against police brutality in 1969. The riots are even referred to as the first Pride. The park is small but has plans to grow, and is a lovely place to visit in one of NYC’s most vibrant neighborhoods. As part of the NPS, your child can also receive a stamp in their parks passport here, and there are educational resources perfect to reference for conversation starters on their website. Afterward, cross the street and get a treat from Big Gay Ice Cream and get lost wandering the beautiful streets and visiting the great playgrounds of the Village.
Sante Fe Indigenous Peoples’ Day Weekend Celebration, Santa Fe, NM
The whole of Santa Fe is a fantastic place to visit, especially if you’d like to learn more about the Indigenous Peoples of the southwest. If you’re making the trip I highly recommend timing it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day weekend, which is a three-day event starting the second Saturday of October, formerly known as Columbus Day but now justly reclaimed by Indigenous Peoples. The weekend is now dedicated to celebrating Native American art and culture with the 23 Nations, Tribes, and Pueblos in New Mexico. During the weekend you’ll find dance and musical performances, storytelling and poetry events, food, and so much more. It’s a great opportunity to introduce your children to Native American traditions in the historic part of the old city, but also a chance to visit modern Santa Fe and talk to them about the contributions of Indigenous Peoples in our country today.
United States Civil Rights Trail, Montgomery, AL + 15 additional states
The United States Civil Rights Trail maps over 100 locations across 15 states, so there’s a good chance you are close to one. Use their interactive map to create your own trip, or do what we did which was add some stops to an existing trip. Montgomery, AL is a great place to visit with school-age children because they’re likely familiar with the stories of Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., both of which of course made groundbreaking history in the city. Here they can stand exactly where Rosa Parks waited for her bus, visit Dr. King’s church and the Freedom Rides Museum and Civil Rights Memorial, and stand on the steps of the Capitol building where Dr. King delivered his “How Long, Not Long” speech after marching from Selma with John Lewis and 25,000 others.
It’s unbelievably powerful to stand in the places where this world-changing history occurred, and much of it really not very long ago, likely when your children’s grandparents were kids themselves, and maybe even somewhere very near to your own hometown. Travel can be a powerful force for good; here’s to our community doing our part to move the path forward!
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