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What Is the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute?

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  • Written By: Susan Grindstaff
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 02 September 2016
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The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is a museum dedicated to memorializing the civil rights struggle that took place in the institute’s home city of Birmingham, Alabama. Exhibits and activities at the institute are designed to highlight not only the horrors and abuses that were the result of racism in Birmingham, but the positive changes that were brought about by the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Some of the events and activities offered include activities and programs designed for children, as well as special events to celebrate Black History Month, Mardi Gras, and Women’s History Month. One of the most popular events is the Milestones Walking Tour, a guided tour that takes in historic places in downtown Birmingham that had some impact or influence on the struggle for civil rights.

Originally, the idea for building the institute is said to have come from David Mann, who was mayor of Birmingham in 1978. Mayor Mann set things in motion, but it was not until 1992 that the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute was completed. During the intervening years there was a great deal of protest and debate regarding the proposed plans, much of which came from some residents who felt that the institute would only increase racial tension in a city that had not yet come to terms with its history of racism. By the date of its completion, most of the controversy had disappeared.

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Located in downtown Birmingham at 520 Sixteenth Street North, normal hours of operation for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute are Tuesdays through Saturdays. The doors typically open at 10 a.m. and close at 5 p.m. During these hours, visitors can view exhibits or make use of educational resources. Exhibits and activities offered by the institute vary, so it is a good idea to call before planning a visit. Special group activities can be pre-arranged, but must be planned and booked well in advance. Educational activities offered by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute include classes and lectures for children, adults, and teens.

For Black History Month, the institute typically offers a monthlong program, the focus of which changes each year but generally revolving around key aspects of the history of civil rights in Birmingham. Notable leaders in the civil rights movement are typically showcased. Women’s History Month is a monthlong celebration of heroic women in history who dedicated their lives and careers to eliminating racism. Mardi Gras celebrations are yearly, typically in late February or early March. As with most of the museum activities, exact times and dates for these yearly events usually change from year to year, so those interested in attending should contact the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in advance.

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