Civil Rights Movement Sites

Date of Submission: 30/01/2008
Criteria: (vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
U.S. Department of the Interior
State, Province or Region:
Alabama
Ref.: 5241
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party

Description

Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, Montgomery  86°18'10.001"W 32°22'37.72"N

Bethel Baptist Church, Birmingham
86°48'6.252"W 33°33'5.118"N

16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham
86°48'52.298"W 33°30'58.677"N

This serial nomination proposal is for the three above-named historically African-American churches. Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church was built in stages in 1883-88. It is a Gothic Revival-style rectangular brick structure with a gable roof; its entrance bay has a 2-stage belfry with a pyramidal roof. It is still an active church. Bethel, built in 1926, is a relatively small 3-story L-shaped Gothic Revival style building of wood frame with brick veneer that was vacated by its congregation in 1997, but remains in their ownership. The 16th Street Church, a much larger structure than Bethel, was built in 1909-11 with a combination of what has been described as Romanesque and Byzantine Revival features; it is a 3-story rectangular structure with twin belltowers.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

These three churches are the locations of iconic events in the mid-20th century civil rights movement for African-Americans in the United States of America. This movement both drew from and had a profound influence on human rights movements elsewhere in the world, particularly insofar as they embody techniques of non-violent social change hitherto most powerfully expressed by Mahatma Gandhi. There were also many other types of sites and many other churches in the United States, especially in the Southern States, that played a role in this movement, but the impact and renown of the events that took place at these three properties are preeminent.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

All three churches retain substantially their appearance as of the time of the most historically significant events associated with them. Repairs and some changes were made after the three bombings at Bethel and portions of the 16th Street Church had to be changed and rebuilt after the 1963 bombing. There is excellent documentation to inform restoration efforts.

Comparison with other similar properties

The subject events in Montgomery and Birmingham were among the most important elements in the movement for African-American civil rights. Although the events with which these churches are associated were so important and influential that they can be recognized in their own right, additional sites in other cities might be included in the series to represent other aspects of the movement. Such sites might include the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia; the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, in Topeka, Kansas; and the Little Rock Central High School (Arkansas) National Historic Site in relation to the desegregation of U.S. public schools; and the Shelley House in St. Louis, Missouri, key in the struggle to eliminate racial restrictions in property deeds. The Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, which commemorates the full route of the 1965 voting rights march, is another potential component. Internationally, there are relatively few sites devoted to human rights struggles, although there are some that were scenes of oppression. There seem to be, as yet, none that so fully represent efforts aimed at non-violent social change.