Visiting Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, Alabama

We drove through Alabama as part of our long day of driving between Lynchburg, Tennessee and New Orleans, Louisiana. It was important to us to see some of the Civil Rights Trail while we were in Alabama but with our limited time we wouldn’t be able to see most of it. Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, Alabama seemed to be the perfect choice. You can make your way around the park at your own pace and it’s open all day, every day – something not all of the Civil Rights Trail stops can offer, particularly on a Monday. 

Welcome to Alabama Sign

Kelly Ingram Park is in the city centre of Birmingham and it’s easy to find, it’s not too big and I’d say it was doable for all physical abilities. We parked at the Pizitz Food Hall which has free parking for 2 hours, and this was about all the time we had available. It’s less than half a mile walk from Pizitz Food Hall to Kelly Ingram Park and it was a very quiet walk for us on a Monday morning, we barely seen another person on most streets.

Enter Kelly Ingram Park from the corner of 5th Avenue and 17th Street North. Walk into the park until you reach the circular walk way and proceed in an anti-clockwise direction, so heading left first. Each sculpture in the park is numbered and you will find yourself at the beginning of the walk if you start from the point I’ve described. However, you can start at any other point of the park, it has entrances at each corner. If you like audio tours you can also dial into a free phone number from your mobile, details can be found here

The sculptures in Kelly Ingram Park show what those fighting for civil rights had to endure on this spot. In 1963 Martin Luther King Jr described Birmingham as “probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States” He was held in Birmingham Jail that year following his arrest which is when he wrote the open letter Letter from Birmingham Jail

Statue of Martin Luther King Jr in Kelly Ingram Park

Soon after Martin Luther King Jr’s release the conflict in Birmingham increased and the Children’s Crusade began with Gwendolyn Sanders leading a massive walk out of school children on 2nd May 1963, Gwendolyn was only in 7th grade herself.

Monument in Kelly Ingram Park, Birmingham Alabama to remember children joining the civil rights movement

Over 600 students were arrested when taking part in the Children’s Crusade; the youngest of these was reported to be eight years old. Children left churches singing hymns and “freedom songs” such as “We Shall Overcome” – a key anthem in the Civil Rights Movement.  

Dr Martin Luther King on Sunday, March 31, 1968, recited the words from “We Shall Overcome” in his last sermon shortly before his assassination. The anthem was also sung at his funeral with 50,000 people in attendance.

More than 1000 people were arrested for protesting in Birmingham and the jail soon exceeded its capacity. A thousand children left church to walk across Kelly Ingram Park. The jail was full and those demonstrators in Kelly Ingram Park were subjected to high pressure fire hoses and police dogs being turned on them in an attempt to subdue the protests. 

Monument of using high-pressure fire hoses on protestors in the Civil Rights Movement
Civil rights walk, Birmingham Alabama
monument showing police dogs attacking in Kelly Ingram Park, Birmingham Alabama
Sculpture dedicated to those who took part in the civil rights movement, Birmingham Alabama

We shall overcome,
We shall overcome,
We shall overcome, some day.
Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day.
We’ll walk hand in hand,
We’ll walk hand in hand,
We’ll walk hand in hand, some day.
Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day.
We shall live in peace,
We shall live in peace,
We shall live in peace, some day.
Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day.
We are not afraid,
We are not afraid,
We are not afraid, TODAY
Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day.
The whole wide world around
The whole wide world around
The whole wide world around some day
Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day.We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome, some day
Oh, deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day
We’ll walk hand in hand
We’ll walk hand in hand
We’ll walk hand in hand, some day
Oh, deep in my heart
We shall live in peace
We shall live in peace
We shall live in peace, some day
Oh, deep in my heart
We shall all be free
We shall all be free
We shall all be free, some day
Oh, deep in my heart
We are not afraid
We are not afraid
We are not afraid, TODAY
Oh, deep in my heart
We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome, some day
Oh, deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day

Writer: J. PETERS
Publisher: Peermusic Publishing, Spirit Music Group

In the aftermath of the demonstrations local businesses made a “pact” with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, although unpopular with Alabama’s Governor Wallace, and Bull Connor the Public Safety Commissioner, who urged white people to boycott the stores involved.

To prevent any violence undermining the agreement 3,000 Army troops were ordered by the President to the outskirts of Birmingham. Local merchants started to desegregate their lunch counters and the newly-elected mayor repealed the city’s Jim Crow laws. Eventually the library, city golf courses, public buildings, and finally the schools were desegregated.

Monument to young girls killed in bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church
Kelly Ingram Park - Freedom Walk

I’d say Kelly Ingram Park is a do not miss for anyone travelling through Alabama. It gives a good insight to the Civil Rights movement and it’s ideal for those, like us, who only have a couple of hours to spare. It’s a small park but does offer a lot to those who visit. We will be back to explore more of the Civil Rights trail in the south after our experience here.

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