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Civil Rights trail keeps Tuscaloosa history alive

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit nearly every industry in Alabama. One of the hardest hit appears to be tourism. That includes attractions connected to Alabama’s civil rights history, like Tuscaloosa’s Civil Rights History Trail. The pandemic slowed down these tours in the Druid City barely a year after they began. Now, historic sites like bloody Tuesday and the Stand In the Schoolhouse door are seeing visitors again.  

Willie Wells was a foot soldier in the Tuscaloosa Civil Rights movement in 1964. She is now the vice president of the Tuscaloosa Civil Rights History Foundation. 

“I was born into a segregated society. I attended segregated elementary school and segregated high school…as well as a segregated college, Stillman College,” she said. 

She recalls stores in Tuscaloosa with no black clerks or cashiers, no dressing rooms, and “separate but equal” water fountains around Tuscaloosa. 

“And that was what it was for the Blacks. We were all woven into the same cloth," she said. "It was no different if it was a principal, a teacher, a preacher. We all had to abide by the same rules.” 

Wells and her siblings would ask their mother why these things were happening and her mother responded “that’s just the way it is” 

Wells said these “rules” were enforced upon them by the police, white citizens, and even members of the Ku Klux Klan. 

“They would be dressed in their white regalia, and they would plant a cross, there, at the corner of Greensboro avenue and what is now Jack Warner Parkway. Our house was sitting near the drawbridge, and my mother would just call us in. And she never taught us to fear the Klan,” she said. 

Dr. Scott Bridges is the president of the Tuscaloosa Civil Rights History Foundation. He gives tours along the trail through town.

“Part of what we do has to do with historical and archival work,” he said. “For a long time until very very recently, it was thought that there were no slave auction houses in Tuscaloosa, but clearly the document that you have states there was one at the Drish House."

As the bus makes its way through Tuscaloosa, he points out some of the historical sites. 

Harrison Taylor was another foot soldier during the Civil Rights movement and was among tourists on the trail.

“Our movement was different than most movements, nobody died in our movement," he said. “Things worked together and changed fast for us. Better than other cities, you know the cities up north fought about every day, about everything.” 

Now almost 60 years later, Tuscaloosa appears to be coming to grips with its Civil Rights history like other Alabama towns like Selma and Birmingham. 

Danny Steele was another Tuscaloosa foot soldier on today’s tour. 

“And what we’re trying to do is educate, educate the people. Let them know what happened here and keep it from happening again," he said. “Tuscaloosa was a very racist place in the 1960s and it took the young people to bring about the change. I was 14 years old when we were teargassed in the church.” 

Tuscaloosa’s Civil Rights tour is only one part of this story throughout Alabama. There are similar trails and museums across the state of Alabama, in Birmingham, Selma, and Montgomery.

Bill Buchanan is the Director of Community Development at Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports. He wants to bring Tuscaloosa’s rich civil rights history to be part of that dialogue.

“People have always been interested in civil rights and the history. Movements like the Black Lives Matter movement has raised awareness, and the trail allows us to offer tours to people coming in to the community,” he said. 

Buchanan believes this could be a point of interest for both local and international travelers who come through Tuscaloosa for a football game. After the fourth quarter, he said local civil rights history could add to a visit to Tuscaloosa.

“A lot of international travelers when they come to the south they want three things. They want food, southern food, music, and history slash civil rights. So the more things that you can have like that really help draw people into the community,” he said. 

The Tuscaloosa Civil Rights History Trail has guided tours available on their website. You can find those at civilrightstuscaloosa.org

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