Alabama may be situated way down in the Deep South, but it was right at the center of the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, and memorials to the struggle remain in place all over the state. In Montgomery, the state’s capital, visitors will find the Rosa Parks Museum inside the building that once housed the Empire Theater, the exact spot where Parks refused to give up her seat and was arrested in 1955. The museum features a replica of the bus she rode, as well as exhibits retelling the events of the Civil Rights Movement.
About 93 miles from Montgomery is the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which chronicles the movement from post-World War I tensions and segregation through the progress that is still being made today. One of the museum’s most famous pieces is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” an open letter arguing other religious leaders should echo his calls for social justice.
Of course, many things to do in Alabama are rooted not in conflict, but in peacefulness. Along the Gulf Shore, visitors at Orange Beach relax amid white-sand beaches, bright-blue bays, and calm bayous. This environment lends itself to deep-sea fishing as well as sailing, sunset cruises, and dolphin-watching expeditions. For even more seclusion, beachgoers cross the three-mile bridge to Dauphin Island. Amid the island's pristine natural habitat lies a 160-acre Audobon bird sanctuary, though the 32 miles of beach on Dauphin Island are a sanctuary of their own.
In the northwest corner of the state you'll find the Shoals, a region whose contributions to blues and country music make it the logical location for the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. The Tuscumbia museum gathers memorabilia from such giants as Tammy Wynette and Hank Williams. Coincidentally, Tuscumbia is also the site of Helen Keller's Birthplace and Home. The best time to visit this 640-acre estate may be a summer weekend, when the Helen Keller Foundation stages outdoor performances of The Miracle Worker.