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These 29 sites within 6 hours of Charleston tell the region's civil rights history

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The South was a hotbed for social justice activity during the civil rights era when African Americans and others fought, bled and died for equal rights.

Today, across the region, states like North Carolina and Georgia have expansive civil rights museums that tell the story. Though a small, privately funded museum recently opened in Orangeburg, there isn't a publicly funded museum in South Carolina dedicated to sharing and interpreting the struggles in the state. Charleston's soon-coming International African American Museum will focus mainly on the history of slavery and not on the struggles of the mid-20th century. 

Pointing to events in the state's history, such as when parents in Clarendon County organized to challenge public school segregation, Dr. Bobby Donaldson, director of the Center for Civil Rights History and Research at the University of South Carolina, said the case can be made for a single space dedicated to the state's civil rights movement.

“There’s no lack of material to tell that story," Donaldson said. "We have ample evidence.”

Despite failure to display that history in a four-walled building in the Palmetto State, there are monuments, markers and museums within the tri-state region marking the places where the struggles were fought. In a day's trip, residents can access the grounds where protesters demanded the right to vote, receive fair work pay, attend quality schools, and enjoy public amenities.

Emanuel AME Church, where Coretta Scott King led a march during the hospital workers strike, tells that story.

The S.C. State University campus, where three students were killed in the Orangeburg Massacre, tells that story.

The Progressive Club building, which housed civil rights leaders working for education, political and social reform, tells that story. 

Just outside the state, a brief drive leads to the birth home and present-day museum of the movement's most famous leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., in Atlanta, or the lunch counter where college students demonstrated peacefully during a sit-in in Greensboro, N.C.

Donaldson says all of these places are connected.

"The important thing is to see civil rights not just as a state issue. But a regional issue," he said.

This list isn't comprehensive. There are other, and arguably more notable, museums and sites in states outside South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia, such as the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama, or the Lorraine Motel in Tennessee, where people can learn civil rights history.

But here are some nearby places that give a glimpse into the past and hope for the future: 

North Carolina

1. F.W. Woolworth Building; International Civil Rights Center & Museum, Greensboro

In 1960, four black college students staged a sit-in here at a then-segregated lunch counter. The act served as a catalyst for a movement that spread to college towns throughout the South. Today, the site at 134 South Elm St. is a full-scale museum with exhibits that celebrate the nonviolent protests and other struggles of the movement. It is on the National Register of Historic Places. Fees and other information on the museum can be found at

Greensboro  Sit In Anniversary

In this Jan. 7, 2010 photo, The entrance to the former F.W. Woolworth store that will become the International Civil Rights Center and Museum is shown in Greensboro, N.C. Four college freshmen walked into a Greensboro, N.C., dime store on Monday, Jan. 1 1960, bought a few items, then sat down at the "whites only" lunch counter, and sparked a wave of civil rights protest that changed America. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

2. February One Monument, Greensboro

This monument is located on the campus of North Carolina A&T State University, about a mile from the museum. It honors the four college freshmen who carried out the lunch counter sit-in that began on Feb. 1, 1960: David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr. (Jibreel Khazan) and Joseph McNeil. The sculpture depicts the men walking out of the F.W. Woolworth lunch counter after the sit-in. It was dedicated Feb. 1, 2002, 42 years to the exact date after the initial historic event.

Greensboro  Civil Rights Trail

FILE - In this Sept. 16, 2016, file photo the F.W. Woolworth's lunch counter is seen at the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro, N.C. The site is among about 130 locations in 14 states being promoted as part of the new U.S. Civil Rights Trail, which organizers hope will boost tourism in the region. (AP Photo/Skip Foreman, File)

3. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Gardens, Raleigh

This is the first public garden in the U.S. devoted to King and the civil rights movement. Located at 1500 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd., the site features a bronze sculpture of King surrounded by bushes and flowers. A water monument nearby honors civil rights leaders. More information is available at

Civil Rights Sites

Estey Hall at Shaw University in Raleigh, NC. (Shaw University Photo)

4. Estey Hall at Shaw University, Raleigh

This building was the first constructed to educate black women in the United States. The school's Ella Baker founded the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee at the university in 1960. SNCC played a leading role in struggle for civil rights, including involvement in the Freedom Rides, which aimed to desegregate buses. Estey Hall still stands today, and is used for events and meetings. It was added to the National Register in 1973. Find more information at

5. Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture, Charlotte

Named after the Charleston native who became the first African American to be admitted to Clemson University in 1963, the center is located in a once-thriving black community in Charlotte's downtown district. The demolition of inner-city neighborhoods and unrest on college campuses inspired black educators to found the center. The site celebrates art, history and culture of African Americans. Find more information at

South Carolina

6. Friendship Nine marker, Rock Hill

On Jan. 31, 1961, ten students from Friendship Junior College marched here to the segregated lunch counter at the former McCrory’s Five & Dime where they participated in a sit-in. After being denied service, the men were arrested. Nine of them refused to pay bail and instead served 30 days in jail. The nine became known as the "Friendship Nine." Today, a historical marker stands outside the diner space. Former restaurants have honored the activists with name plates of each of the nine men, but today, the space itself is unoccupied. Still, the original lunch counter and metal chairs remain and can be seen through the glass window.

7. Springfield Baptist Church, Greenville

Founded by freed slaves in the 19th century, the black Baptist church was a hub for the civil rights movement in the mid-20th century. Within its walls, activists organized sit-ins. Members filed lawsuits that led to school integration. The church also participated in a march at the airport after Jackie Robinson was denied use of the airport's waiting room. The church is still open and active today. Worship service times can be found at

8. Benjamin E. Mays Historical Preservation Site, Greenwood

The historic site is the birth home of one the nation's most known social justice activists. Benjamin E. Mays spoke out often against segregation and for education and served as president of Morehouse College, a private, historically black men's institution in Atlanta. He served as a senior adviser for King and preached the eulogy for his funeral. His home was moved from its original location by preservationists to its current spot on the campus of GLEAMNS Human Resources Commission, located in the old African American Brewer Hospital before desegregation. Operating hours and other information is available at

Civil Rights Sites

University of South Carolina Desegregation Commemorative Garden in Columbia, SC. (USC Photo)

9. USC Desegregation Commemorative Garden, Columbia

Adjacent to the Osbourne Administration Building on the campus of the University of South Carolina, the garden was dedicated 50 years after three African American students integrated the campus in the 1963. The space features a trinity of sculpted juniper topiaries, flowered beds, curving brick pathways and a granite monument honoring Henrie Monteith Treadwell, Robert Anderson and James Solomon, who became the first African American students to register at the school since 1877.

10. African American History Monument at S.C. Statehouse, Columbia

This monument was installed in 2001 as part of a compromise that saw the Confederate battle flag come down from the top of the building to be placed on the front lawn. The interactive space features a memorial that tells the story of black history from slavery into the modern era. None of the persons are specifically identified as to avoid representing figures like Denmark Vesey, viewed as controversial by some. An image illustrating human bodies packed on slave ships sits on the ground. 

South Carolina African American History Monument

The African American History Monument is seen near the South Carolina Statehouse, Friday, June 19, 2015, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

11. Modjeska Monteith Simkins House, Columbia

Modjeska Monteith Simkins served as a leader in health reform and civil rights for African Americans. Active in area's National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, her home served as a meeting place for civil rights activists, including Thurgood Marshall, who stayed here when hotels in the city were closed to blacks. Simkins also helped write the declaration in the lawsuit case of Briggs v. Elliott that asked for equalization between black and white schools. Today, her home is managed by Historic Columbia and serves as an educational and public meeting space. It is currently not available for tours due to renovations. It's on the National Register of historic places. More information can be found at

historic church briggs vs elliott tour.jpg

On Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019, Liberty Hill AME Church in Summerton hosted the unveiling of a guide which highlights significant sites in the efforts of black parents — in the late 1940s and early 1950s — seeking educational equality for their children in Clarendon County schools. Wade Spees/Staff

12. Historic Liberty Hill AME, Summerton

This church was used as a meeting place in the 1950s for parents aiming to obtain fair schooling for black children. Some of the adults became plaintiffs in the federal court case Briggs v. Elliott, which was heard in Charleston in 1952. The case became part of Brown v. Topeka Board of Education — the landmark case that struck down the "separate but equal" doctrine concerning the segregation of schools in 1954. The church recently unveiled a new pamphlet, which offers visitors a self-guided tour of Summerton and pinpoints locations behind the beginnings of Briggs v. Elliott.

13. Orangeburg Massacre monument, Orangeburg

On Feb. 8, 1968, two days after a race riot broke out at the segregated All Star Bowling Lanes, violence broke out again on the campus of the black South Carolina State University. After students tried to burn down a house, a patrolman was hit by a banister. Officers fired into the crowd of students, killing three: Sammy Hammond Jr., Delano Middleton and Henry Smith, and injuring 27. Today, stone memorials on the school's National Register campus honor the fallen and commemorates the historic event in the state's civil rights history.

memorial.jpg (copy)

Part of a monument in memory of those wounded and killed in the 1968 Orangeburg Massacre. The monument has a prominent place on the campus of South Carolina State University. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

14. Cecil Williams Museum, Orangeburg

This space is named after the photographer whose photos fill the museum. After waiting for decades for the community to make progress on building a museum, Cecil Williams, 81, solely founded and funded the museum, which is located in a residential neighborhood next to his home. About 350 pictures snapped by Williams highlight the history of the state's civil rights struggles. To book a tour at the museum, guests can reach Williams through his website,, or call 803-531-1662.

15. Emanuel AME Church, Charleston

Known by many as the place where nine black parishioners were murdered by a white supremacist in 2015, the historically black church also has ties to the civil rights era. The church was one of several places where activists met to organize before and after marches and welcomed activists into its pulpit, including King. Today, a marker stands outside the church, which is on the National Register. The church is a regular stopping place for tourists and politicians.

Emanuel AME exterior.JPG

Today marks four years since the Emanuel AME Church shooting. Lauren Petracca/Staff

16. Medical University Hospital workers strike marker, Charleston

The black-and-silver marker serves as the only physical remembrance on the campus of the Medical University of South Carolina of the 1969 event when African American hospital workers — underpaid and overworked — marched in the streets of Charleston. Hundreds of protesters were led by Coretta Scott King in the wake of the assassination of her husband a year earlier.

17. The Progressive Club, Johns Island

This center was founded by activist Esau Jenkins, who worked to improve political, educational and social opportunities for black residents on the Sea Islands. The building was damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. The structure remains in a dilapidated state, though it's had notable visitors, such as Abraham "Bill" Jenkins, son of Esau Jenkins. It was added to the National Register in 2007.

darrah hall reconstruction era.jpg

Reconstruction Era National Historical Park Superintendent Scott Teodorski gave visitors a tour of Darrah Hall at the Penn Center on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. It was a center of community activity, including temperance meetings and fairs. Wade Spees/Staff

18. Penn Center, St. Helena Island

The center is the site of the former Penn School, one of the country's first schools for formerly enslaved individuals. During the 1960s, the site hosted interracial conferences on civil rights and served as a retreat spot for King and other activists. Today, the structure serves as a conference center and museum and is part of the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor and Penn Center Historic District. Visit for more information.


Atlanta Travel Atlanta King

This April 29, 2018 photo shows the tomb where Martin Luther King, Jr., and his wife Coretta Scott King are interred in Atlanta at the King Center. Nearby attractions include the house where he was born and lived until the age of 12, along with a National Park Service visitor center with exhibits about his life and the civil rights movement. (AP Photo/Beth J. Harpaz)

19. Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, Atlanta, Ga.

Through dozens of buildings, a garden, and several exhibits, this park honors the life and legacy of the international hero who led the civil rights movement until his assassination in 1968. King embraced a strategy of nonviolence and led peaceful protests, serving as the driving force behind the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the 1963 March on Washington. The events helped bring about landmark legislation, such as the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Buildings at the park include King's birth home, church and the center that honors his work. Find park hours and other information at

Travel Trip 5 Free Things Atlanta

This Dec. 20, 2013 photo shows the home where Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., was born in the historic Sweet Auburn historic district in Atlanta. The Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site, operated by the National Park Service, offers free tours of King's birth home. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

20. Martin Luther King Jr. Birth Home, Atlanta

King was born here on Jan. 15, 1929, and spent his first 12 years of his life at this residence. The house remained in the King family and efforts began after his assassination to turn the two-story structure into a museum. Today, the site is listed as a National Register site and offers the only ranger-led tour in the park where people can learn about King's childhood.

21. The King Center, Atlanta

Established in 1968 by Coretta Scott King, the center honors King's legacy for nonviolent social change. The center's library holds the largest repository in the world of primary source materials on King and the American civil rights movement. The center is currently undergoing renovations to include preservation and digitization of archives, the launch of a digital strategy and conference series, and development of new programs and partnerships, but it is open to visitors. King and his wife are buried on the site. Find more information at

MLK Funeral 1968

The funeral procession of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., arrives at the Ebenezer Baptist church in Atlanta, April 9, 1968. (AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi)

22. Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta

In his early years, King learned about Christian love and social justice at this Atlanta Baptist church. In the 1960s, he served as co-pastor with his father until the younger King's assassination in 1968. While the National Register church is open for tours, it's members remain active in ministry. 

23. The African-American Panoramic Experience Museum, Atlanta

The museum explores the African diaspora and celebrates black heritage with exhibits that focus on the contributions of African Americans. The center is located in the Sweet Auburn Historic District, formerly home to a bustling black community of businesses, congregations and social organizations. Find more information at

24. Elbert P. Tuttle United States Court of Appeals Building, Atlanta

The building was the location of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals during the civil rights movement. It honors the renowned judge, Elbert Parr Tuttle (1897-1996), who heard numerous civil rights cases regarding voter registration, civil liberties, school desegregation, and job discrimination. An exhibit on Tuttle and his civil rights achievements is located on the third floor of the building today. It was listed as part of the Fairlie Poplar National Register Historic District in 1984. More information is available at

25. National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Atlanta

This museum was established in 2007 as a center dedicated to the civil rights movement in America and broader worldwide human rights movements. Current exhibits include Red Summer and the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Collection. Visit the center's website for more information at

Georgia Daily Life

Visitors enter the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Thursday, June 13, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Andrea Smith)

26. The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, Atlanta

Carter, the former Georgia state senator and governor who served as president from 1977-81, supported civil rights for African Americans. He advocated for school consolidation and denounced racial discrimination. Through his nonprofit, Carter also helps aid people abroad. He oversees programs that aim to prevent disease, advance human rights and economic development, resolve conflicts and promote democratic principles around the world. More information on the presidential library and museum can be found at

27. Dorchester Academy Boys' Dormitory, Midway

In the 1960s, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference held its citizenship education workshops at the academy that once served as a Congregationalist missionary school. This national historic landmark was also the planning center for the SCLC's successful March 1963 campaign to end segregation in Birmingham.

28. Albany Civil Rights Institute, Albany

In 1961, representatives from community organizations formed the Albany Movement to coordinate local civil rights activities, to include a bus boycott in 1962. Old Mt. Zion Church opened its doors to the group's first mass meeting. Today, the old church building serves as a museum and sits adjacent to the current Mt. Zion Church building. The museum tells the story of the movement throughout southwest Georgia and includes interactive exhibits, a large multipurpose room and an outdoor garden facility. Find more information at

29. Shiloh Baptist Church, Albany

Shiloh Baptist Church is credited with being the site where the Albany Movement began. Here, a coalition of black improvement associations and young activists from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Albany State College mapped out plans to desegregate the community. Today, a marker stands outside the historic house of worship. It was named a national register site in 2015.

Sources: U.S. Civil Rights Trail, The Post and Courier, National Register of Historic Places

Follow Rickey Dennis on Twitter @RCDJunior.

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