A Civil Rights Trail road trip belongs on everyone’s list. Not only does it take you on a journey to all the monuments, museums, and unforgettable moments of the movement, but it offers a vivid glimpse into the story of Black Americans’ fight for freedom and equality. It gives you the opportunity to walk in Dr. King’s footsteps, take a seat at a lunch counter where historic sit-ins took place, and ride in the spirit of the Freedom Riders. Plus, you get to support local Black businesses, restaurants, and organizations at every turn.
Whether you plan to hit the Civil Rights Trail later this year or are still in the daydreaming phase, here are a few of our recommended reads to inspire your trip—or to pack in your suitcase and read along the way.
Start with the one-of-a-kind guide to the trail:
The journey starts in Charleston—the main port of entry for many enslaved Africans—then winds through Southern cities and towns where demonstrators waged marches, boycotts, and Freedom Rides. The journey ends in Washington DC, where some of the demands raised by movement leaders eventually found a hearing. But of course, it doesn’t really end there. African Americans have always resisted oppression: The movement of the 1950s and ’60s is just a part of a long through line that continues to this day.
Add a few books to your reading list:
To understand the Civil Rights Movement, you have to understand the deeply rooted history of racism in America. In this fast-moving narrative, award-winning historian Ibram X. Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti-Black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history. He uses the life stories of five major American intellectuals to drive this history: Puritan minister Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. Du Bois, and legendary activist Angela Davis.
by John Lewis
Before you walk in the footsteps of the late Congressman John Lewis in Selma, read his powerful words. Despite more than forty arrests, physical attacks, and serious injuries, John Lewis remained a devoted advocate of the discipline and philosophy of nonviolence. Now, in an era in which the protest culture he helped forge has resurfaced as a force for change, Lewis’ insights have never been more relevant.
by Ijeoma Oluo
Kickstart your Civil Rights Trail planning with this New York Times bestseller. In So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo guides readers of all races through subjects ranging from intersectionality and affirmative action to “model minorities” in an attempt to make the seemingly impossible possible: honest conversations about race and racism, and how they infect almost every aspect of American life.
In the standard story, the suffrage crusade began in Seneca Falls in 1848 and ended with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. But this overwhelmingly white women's movement did not win the vote for most Black women. Securing their rights required a movement of their own. Read this book, then don't miss the monument to activist Fannie Lou Hamer on the trail in Mississippi.
To most Americans, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. represent contrasting ideals: self-defense vs. nonviolence, black power vs. civil rights, the sword vs. the shield. Author Peniel E. Joseph upends these misconceptions and reveals a nuanced portrait of two men who, despite markedly different backgrounds, inspired and pushed each other throughout their adult lives. Let this book illuminate your visits to the Martin Luther King Jr. Birth Home and Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
With Osayi Endolyn
With Yewande Komolafe
Celebrate the flavors of the Civil Rights Trail in your own kitchen. In The Rise, chef, author, and television star Marcus Samuelsson gathers together an unforgettable feast of food, culture, and history to highlight the diverse deliciousness of Black cooking today. Driven by a desire to fight against bias, reclaim Black culinary traditions, and energize a new generation of cooks, Marcus shares his own journey alongside 150 recipes in honor of dozens of top chefs, writers, and activists—with stories exploring their creativity and influence.
In a series of incisive essays, Mychal Denzel Smith exposes the stark contradictions at the heart of American life, holding all of us, individually and as a nation, to account. Stakes Is High ties America's current crises to its previous ones, and is sure to inspire thought-provoking conversations as you road-trip through the South.
by Dana Canedy
by Darcy Eveleigh
by Damien Cave
by Rachel L. Swarns
Hundreds of stunning images from Black history have long been buried in The New York Times archives. UNSEEN uncovers these never-before published photographs and tells the stories behind them. This book includes those photographs and many more, among them: a 27-year-old Jesse Jackson leading an anti-discrimination rally of in Chicago, Rosa Parks arriving at a Montgomery Courthouse in Alabama, the firebombed home of Malcolm X, and Myrlie Evans and her children at the funeral of her slain husband, Medgar.
Get the whole family involved:
Foreword by Daymond John
by Tramica Morris
Among Memphis’s local entrepreneurs is South Memphis youth Moziah Bridges, who started making bowties in his grandmother’s kitchen in South Memphis when he needed a way to look sharp. Aimed at young middle grade readers, Mo’s Bows: A Young Person’s Guide to Startup Success follows Mo’s journey to success and reveals all the ups and downs and important lessons he’s learned along the way. Be sure to buy one of his bowties when you stop in Memphis!
Among these women, you’ll find heroes, role models, and everyday women who did extraordinary things – bold women whose actions and beliefs contributed to making the world better for generations of girls and women to come. Whether they were putting pen to paper, soaring through the air or speaking up for the rights of others, the women profiled in these pages were all taking a stand against a world that didn’t always accept them.
This picture book is a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the momentous Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina, where four college students staged a peaceful protest that became a defining moment in the struggle for racial equality and the growing civil rights movement. On the trail, you and your family can visit the original full-scale lunch counter at Greensboro's International Civil Rights Center & Museum.
Illustrated by Loveis Wise
Cover design or artwork by Loveis Wise
This collection will move every young adult reader to reflect, respond-and act. Inspired by the #SayHerName campaign launched by the African American Policy Forum, these poems pay tribute to victims of police brutality as well as the activists insisting that Black Lives Matter. Elliott engages poets from the past two centuries to create a chorus of voices celebrating the creativity, resilience, and courage of Black women and girls.