Birmingham is working to save an important civil rights era structure and to mark lynching sites.
Birmingham, Ala. ----- Elected officials and national park representatives gathered in the courtyard of the historic A.G. Gaston Motel to mark the beginning of its restoration.
In 1963, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. regularly stayed in Room 30 at the motel, meeting there with other civil rights activists to plan the scope of the Birmingham campaign. Motel owner and Birmingham black business magnate A.G. Gaston offered rooms at discounted rates to leaders of the movement. Also that year, a bomb was detonated below Room 30 causing extensive damage.
The motel has been closed since the 1970s until Birmingham city officials recently allocated money to restore the historic landmark. The restoration of the original motel is the first part of the project. Crews currently are determining what is needed to preserve the building’s 1960s character.
In 2017, President Barack Obama designated the Birmingham Civil Rights District a national monument. The district includes the A.G. Gaston Motel, along with the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, site of the fatal 1963 bombing, and other places of significance to the movement in Birmingham.
Across the city at Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark, hundreds of people gathered to witness an historic marker unveiled to memorialize two of Jefferson County’s lynching victims.
In 1890 in Brookside, just north of Birmingham, a violent confrontation between black and white people erupted at mines owned by Sloss-Sheffield Iron and Steel Company. The clash ended with black worker Tom Redmond being lynched by shooting. The marker was erected at Sloss Furnaces because of the Sloss-Sheffield connection.
The marker also memorializes Jake McKenzie, a man who was lynched in 1897 for trying to defend another black man. The markers are the work of the Jefferson County Memorial Project and the Equal Justice Initiative.
The unveiling marks the first of several markers planned for Jefferson County, where at least 30 people were lynched during eras of slavery, convict leasing, and mass incarceration.
The local movement follows the opening of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery last year, the first such place dedicated to the thousands of African-Americans killed by lynching and other racial violence in the U.S. from 1877 to 1950.