4 Small Towns to Visit Along the U.S. Civil Rights Trail

There are 60 featured destinations on the Civil Rights Trail, across 15 states and Washington, D.C.

The F W. Woolworth building where the first "sit-in" for integration occurred in 1960.
Photo: J. Michael Jones/Getty Images

Stretching across 15 states and the District of Columbia, the Civil Rights Trail tells the story of this decades-long movement for equality through museums, historical markers, and more. Travelers interested in exploring the places that played a pivotal role in the U.S. civil rights movement can look to the interactive Civil Rights Trail website to guide their plans as they choose locations — there are 60 featured destinations — to visit.

To help narrow down your search, here are a few of the lesser-known but particularly noteworthy small towns along the Civil Rights Trail.

Danville, Virginia

Exterior of Bloody Sunday historical sign and Justice Center in Danville, Virginia
Courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

Known as "the last capital of the Confederacy" in the 1960s, Danville was added to the Civil Rights Trail on Feb. 1, 2022. Here, visitors will find the Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History, which once served as a public library. In 1960, a sit-in was held in Danville, but in response, rather than allowing Black visitors to use the library, town officials shut down the library. In the years following that incident, there were several other demonstrations for racial equality, each met with strong, often violent resistance.

Today, travelers can visit the Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History to see an exhibit titled "The Movement," which details this local fight for civil rights. The permanent exhibit features testimonies from protestors, as well as leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., who visited Danville amid the turmoil.

Sarasota, Florida

Aerial view of Lido Beach in Sarasota, Florida
Ruth Peterkin/Getty Images

Florida may be known for its beaches, but until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Black residents had almost no access to the state's 825 miles of shoreline. In 1955, Sarasota's NAACP president Neil Humphrey Sr. organized what was then a new form of protest: wade-ins. Residents of Sarasota's Black community of Newtown drove en masse to Lido Beach to swim, walk the shores, and wade in the waters. This demonstration introduced wade-ins as another tool of the civil rights movement, and the method would be used on many coastlines after the initial protest.

Visitors to Sarasota can learn more about Newtown's role in the fight to end segregation by exploring the Newtown African American Heritage Trail, which features 15 historical markers and follows the route that protestors and activists took as they carpooled to local beaches. As ​​part of the Newtown Alive initiative, travelers can also hop on a guided, two-hour trolley or bus tour of the area.

Albany, Georgia

Martin Luther King, Jr. leads a line of African-American protesters down a Albany, Georgia street.
After being arrested by Albany Police Chief Laurie Pritchett, Martin Luther King, Jr. leads a line of African-American protesters down a Albany, Georgia street in 1961. Bettmann Archive

In November 1961, local activists from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the NAACP, and other organizations formed the Albany Movement, a campaign to end segregation in all forms throughout Albany, Georgia. Three student activists, Charles Sherrod, Cordell Reagon, and Charles Jones hosted workshops to teach nonviolent protest tactics and organized mass protests throughout the city. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference even joined the coalition for a brief period.

Travelers can learn more about Albany's key role in the region's civil rights efforts with a visit to the Albany Civil Rights Movement Museum at Old Mount Zion. There, they'll find a museum, research center, and the rehabilitated Old Mount Zion Baptist Church, which served as meeting grounds for the Albany Movement. Albany also has a historical marker in front of Shiloh Baptist Church to commemorate the day King spoke to more than 1,500 people at Mount Zion Baptist Church, forcing the crowd to spill over into Shiloh Church.

Greensboro, North Carolina

The F W. Woolworth building where the first "sit-in" for integration occurred in 1960.
J. Michael Jones/Getty Images

Throughout the civil rights movement, sit-ins became one of the most well-known tactics used to protest segregation, and it all began in Greensboro. On Feb. 1, 1960, four Black students from the Agricultural & Technical College of North Carolina sat at the lunch counter inside Woolworth's department store. They were refused service but remained seated there until the store closed. In the days that followed, the sit-in continued to grow until more than 300 students were involved and also staging sit-ins at other nearby restaurants. These sit-ins continued and ultimately expanded outside of North Carolina to the rest of the country.

The original Woolworth's building now houses the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, which commemorates the efforts of the A&T Four and the peaceful sit-in movement that they launched. The original counter where the four men sat is on display at the museum, which also hosts other exhibits about the U.S. civil rights movement. Guided tours are available by reservation, or guests can simply explore on their own. To complete the experience, travelers in Greensboro can also stop by the February One monument honoring the A&T Four: David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr. (Jibreel Khazan), and Joseph McNeil.

Jessica Poitevien is a Travel + Leisure contributor currently based in South Florida, but she's always on the lookout for her next adventure. Besides traveling, she loves baking, talking to strangers, and taking long walks on the beach. Follow her adventures on Instagram.

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