Deadline approaching to submit concepts on early plans for Birmingham Civil Rights Nationwide Monument
The National Park Service (NPS) wants to hear your vision and ideas as it moves forward in developing plans for the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument.
July 10th is the last day to comment as Park Service officials delve into developing a General Management Plan (GMP) for the monument, which includes some of the most important and iconic structures involved in the struggle for equal rights are linked in Birmingham and which led to groundbreaking federal civil rights laws in the 1960s. The memorial was created in 2017 in one of the last acts of outgoing President Barack Obama.
One of the central structures within the memorial footprint is the long-closed AG Gaston Motel, in which civil rights activists, including the Revs. Martin Luther King Jr., Fred Shuttlesworth, and Ralph Abernathy held strategic meetings to reduce segregation in the city. Three people were injured when a bomb exploded in the hotel on May 11, 1963 to murder King. He was not in the hotel at the time. King’s brother, Rev. AD King’s home in the Ensley neighborhood of Birmingham was also bombed that day.
The motel was built by the black businessman and millionaire AG Gaston and was considered one of the best public accommodation and restaurants for blacks in town. The structure is undergoing a dramatic restoration as part of the monument planning, but many details have yet to be finalized with public engagement.
Martin Luther King Jr. outside of AG Gaston Motel in 1963. (Birmingham Police Surveillance Record, 1947-1980. Collection 1125, Archives Department, Birmingham Public Library)
The AG Gaston Hotel is one of the prime properties in the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. (Michael Sznajderman / Alabama NewsCenter)
The AG Gaston Hotel in 1954. (Jefferson County Board of Equalization Records, from the Birmingham Public Library)
AG Gaston and RA Hester in the courtyard of the motel. (Birmingham City Archives)
“General management plans specify the long-term orientation of a national park and at the same time define the conditions that are necessary to optimally conserve resources, manage operations and enable visitors to use and enjoy them,” said Kristofer Butcher, superintendent of the monument. “The involvement of citizens and stakeholders in this process is vital and we look forward to hearing from the public with whom NPS shares its responsibilities.”
NPS officials recently held two virtual public sessions to gather input and feedback on the original plans. They are asking more people to consider ideas for the memorial, Gaston Motel restoration, and topics such as parking, interpretive exhibits, location of a visitor center, transportation between sites, and staff.
Other downtown attractions that are part of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument include the 16th Street Baptist Church, St. Paul United Methodist Church, Kelly Ingram Park, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the enclosed Colored Masonic Temple “On Fourth Avenue North. which is to be renovated. Also an integral part of the memorial is the Bethel Baptist Church in the Collegeville neighborhood, where Shuttlesworth was pastor.
The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham is part of the designated Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. (contributed)
Most of the attractions that make up the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument are in a four square block neighborhood around Kellly Ingram Park. (Jet Lowe / Library of Congress)
St. Paul United Methodist Church is part of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. (Bernard Troncale / Alabama NewsCenter)
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. (From the Encyclopedia of Alabama, courtesy of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute)
Log into the grounds of the historic Bethel Baptist Church. (Frank Couch / The Birmingham Times)
Interested parties can learn more about the first plans and make comments on a special NPS website. Further details on the monument can be found here. In addition to looking for answers to specific questions, the NPS also invites people to share their general ideas about the project and its development.
The National Park Service will use the feedback to develop more specific plans that are expected to be ready for another round of public comment later this year or early next year. Valet parking officials hope parts of the monument can be put into operation before the 2022 World Games hit the city next summer.
Meanwhile, NPS officials are working on ideas for a temporary exhibit that would allow visitors to enter portions of the Gaston Motel, see the restoration work to date, and learn more about the motel’s role in the city’s civil rights history. The temporary exhibition is scheduled to open this summer.
The restoration of the motel is a joint project between the National Park Service and the City of Birmingham, who share the building. Workers recently completed an initial phase of the building’s exterior restoration, including installing historically correct windows, repainting the structure with the same exterior colors that adorned the building during the famous Children’s Crusade in 1963, and reinstalling a replica of the hotel sign (under Use of modern LED lighting versus neon). How the interior of the hotel will be restored and how the history will be presented on site are among the many decisions that NPS officials will make under the guidance of the public.
Those who would rather email valet comments rather than use their preferred website can click here. NPS officials also take comments via email. Send comments to: Superintendent Kristofer Butcher, Attn: Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument General Management Plan, National Park Service, 1914 Fourth Ave. N., Suite 440, Birmingham, AL 35203.
Learn more about the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument below www.nps.gov/bicr/.