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Discovering Southern Values.

Ruffner Nature Center in Birmingham.  (Photo credit:  A. Headrick)

Ruffner Nature Center’s view in Birmingham. (Photo credit: A. Headrick)

Travelers lucky enough to fly around the globe are always on the hunt for new and different experiences and perspectives. For anyone without a lot of time to spare or who like quick getaways, there are plenty of cities and towns in the good old U.S.A. offering amazing food, cultural and natural attractions, or historical value. One of them is Birmingham, Alabama. That’s right, Birmingham, Alabama.

Why Birmingham? Because this week in September marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement in this southern city and institutions are generating tourism by making civil rights relevant for a younger generation. That might sound like a strange thing for anyone who grew up during the Civil Rights Movement, or for those of us who grew up in racially mixed areas exposed to a generation of African-Americans that had to fight for their rights. It seems crazy that there are Americans who aren’t fully aware of the events that took place during what is probably the most turbulent period in American history, but there are. This year, Birmingham has seen an uptick in visitors—whether through school outings, individual travelers, or families who want their children to understand the facts and details of one of this country’s darkest periods.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) opened in 1992 as an interpretive museum and research center.  BCRI is a cornerstone of this city and documents Birmingham’s role in the Civil Rights Movement.  Its mission is to promote civil and human rights worldwide.  Many of their education programs are geared towards young people with a goal to start a fire in the heels of the future. Their outreach education program reaches 20,000 people in various community spaces, and they have traveling exhibitions. The city gets its fair share of tour and convention groups, and individual travelers, who come to soak up the history by visiting BCRI and other historical places like the 16th Street Baptist Church, Bethel Baptist Church, and Kelly Ingram Park.

Kelly Ingram Park draws visitors to Birmingham.

Kelly Ingram Park draws visitors to Birmingham. (Photo credit: CLUI.)

For anyone pulling a weekender, there’s entertainment, outdoor activities, and nightlife. Whether your palate is high-brow or low-brow, you’ll find down home cooking and finger-licking barbecue, as well as some of the most exceptional food in the country. Over the past few years a handful of the city’s chefs were recognized with the James Beard Award and in Food + Wine. Its natural beauty is discovered at the 67-acre Birmingham Botanical Gardens, and five miles from the city is Ruffner Mountain Nature Center, a 1,000-acre preserve and urban forest with loads of hiking trails. State parks offer more opportunities to hike and bike year-round. Anyone into fishing will be happy to discover that Alabama is known as the “bass capital of the world.”

Birmingham shakes with history and It’s hard to go anywhere in the city without finding a place that’s significantly tied to the Civil Rights Movement. Its past is dark and complicated but the unity created by the brave, and mostly young, men and women during the Civil Rights Movement spurred a government to move this country forward.  It might not be a city that instantly comes to mind when you think about traveling in the U.S. but the historical and educational value, and southern hospitality,  you’ll find there is an excellent reason to visit.

It’s also one of the most affordable cities in the country.  If they don’t have it up their sleeve already, travel agents with the good habit of recommending destinations may want to add it to their list of places to visit in the U.S.