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Book documenting sites of Civil Rights landmarks launch at MLK birth home

"The Official U.S. Civil Rights Trail Companion Book" by Lee Sentell on sale now. Credit: PERITUS Public Relations

The U.S. Civil Rights Trail marks over 120 landmarks across 14 states for travelers to visit.

By Allison Joyner

A new work detailing some of the better-known and not-so-apparent important locations of the Civil Rights Movement is now available for purchase. 

The U.S. Official Civil Rights Trail Companion Book compliments a website that follows a timeline of 36 significant events from the Topeka, Kan. Brown v. Board of Education decision to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., where Atlanta native Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech.

From the National Center for Civil and Human Rights to the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, the book shows more than 200 images of Civil Rights landmarks that underscore the trail’s transformative experience and its enduring relevance. 

“The Civil Rights Movement is a critical global narrative and a shared story of bravery and determination by people who put their livelihood on the line for peace and justice,” said Alabama Tourism Director and book author Lee Sentell. 

Sentell, who has been in his position for almost 20 years, started the website in 2007 when he partnered with 14 neighboring state tourism agencies to create this iconic trail and book. 

Worried that future generations would forget this critical time in American history, Sentell created the two mediums to experience and learn about the stories from the past. 

During the launch of the new book, Sentell told SaportaReport, when he would tell people to visit the website they didn’t, “but if you hand somebody a book, then they will sit down and look through it and hopefully read it and say ‘oh I had no idea about this.’”

Author Lee Sentell signing his new book “The Official U.S. Civil Rights Trail Companion Book”

Sentell especially wanted to make it easy for young people to understand what African Americans went through during the 1950s and 60s for racial equality. 

Southern Living photographer Art Meripol captures every destination in the book, so visitors can share the journey of the Civil Rights Movement long after their experience is over.

SaportaReport sat down with one individual who recently made her own journey on the Civil Rights Trail to learn more about the segregated South.

With the COVID-19 pandemic putting a halt in her international excursions, travel enthusiast Julia Atherton took advantage of traveling by car instead of an airplane.

During her road trip to North Carolina from Dallas during the Thanksgiving holiday, Atherton visited almost 30 destinations on the Civil Rights Trail. 

Her trip started in Texas and drove through states like Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. She made stops in places like the Elbert P. Tuttle U.S. Court of Appeals building here in Atlanta, where the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals implemented the Brown v. Board of Education verdict in the segregated South. 

Cutting through Tennessee to visit the Witness Walls at the Davidson County Courthouse where students from Historically Black colleges like Fisk University and American Baptist College confronted the Nashville mayor after months of lunch counter sit-ins and boycotts and the National Civil Rights Museum at The Lorraine Motel to see the site of King’s assassination in Memphis on her way home. 

“I have always been interested in the Civil Rights Movement,” Atherton told SaportaReport, “and I never pieced it together as a trail,” but the road trip allowed her to “connect the dots.”

She added, “it was almost somber and I shook my head almost everywhere I went.” Atherton says she cried because of the overwhelming emotions that these sites generated.

When Sentell started planning the book launch six months ago, his first and only choice was to do it in front of the birth home of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

“Thought from the standpoint of the whole trail,” Sentell explained, “this is ground zero,” and there were no comparable places for him to choose. 

In addition to having speakers like the Deputy Commissioner of Explore Georgia, Mark Jaronski and Judy Forte, the national park service superintendent for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. National Park, the event’s keynote speaker and the daughter of Martin and Coretta Scott King, Dr. Bernice King, had some poignant words for the occasion. 

King, who is the CEO of The King Center, said, “every place you go through this historic Civil Rights Trail is sacred and should not be taken lightly because people literally risked their lives and some shed their blood so that we could be a better nation.”

CEO of The King Center, Dr. Bernice King speaks at the launch of the new Civil Rights Trail book.
Credit: PERITUS Public Relations

Both Sentell and Atherton suggest that visitors interested in visiting some stops on the Civil Rights Trail should do their research before beginning.

Sentell says to start your journey by picking one person involved in the Civil Rights Movement like Fred Shuttleworth or U.S. Congressman John Lewis and try to learn as much about that person before visiting sites on the trail.

Atherton agrees but says, “if you can do it, do it alone.” She explains that it was more meaningful for her this way because she could “go where I was moved to go and spend as much time as I wanted to,” which allowed her to take her time and absorb what she was seeing. 

The U.S. Civil Rights Trail Companion Book is available on the Alabama Media Group website, Amazon, The King Center, and bookstores inside Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International and Birmingham Shuttlesworth International airports. Proceeds will benefit a fund to install LED lighting to the Edmund Pettus Bridge -the site of Bloody Sunday during the Selma March- in Selma, Ala. 



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