Listen to the Stories of Alabama’s Civil Rights SitesBreaking News
tags: civil rights, Alabama, civil rights movement, oral history, Martin Luther King Jr.
Valda Harris Montgomery can still remember the Freedom Riders staying at her childhood home. It was May 1961, and the group of African-American activists had ridden into a segregated bus station in Montgomery, Alabama—a direct challenge to racist policies in the South. They were harassed and attacked, and eventually transported by the National Guard to the home of Richard H. Harris Jr., Montgomery’s father, whose residence served as a hub for Civil Rights campaigners. Sheltered there, the Freedom Riders made plans for continuing their protest.
“You knew that there were here and you spoke to them because they were friends of your parents, but not realizing just what an important impact they made,” Montgomery says.
The Dr. Richard Harris House is now among 20 locations featured in “Voices of Alabama,” a new interactive project that seeks to preserve the histories of Alabama sites with important links to the Civil Rights movement. The initiative stems from a collaboration between the World Monuments Fund (WMF), the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI), and the Alabama African-American Civil Rights Heritage Sites Consortium (AAACRHSC).
In 2018, the 20 historic sites were added to the WMF’s World Monuments Watch, a list of threatened cultural sites. But the consortium, which is “comprised of dedicated site stewards,” recognized that it was not only the physical structures that were at risk; the stories behind them were also in danger of being lost. “Voices of Alabama” thus focuses on collecting oral histories, which are told in videos connected to each location.