What seems like yesterday's headlines to us grown-ups is in fact the foggy past to our kids. Take, for example, that afternoon in 1955 when a black seamstress named Rosa Parks was arrested for not yielding her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama, public bus. A controversial bus boycott followed (led by a young Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.), one of the first skirmishes in the civil rights battle of the 1960s. We refer to it so casually, as if everyone should know about this tumultuous era, but it's all new to the kids -- and even adults may find they didn't know as much as they thought.
That 1955 street scene is re-created at Montgomery's Rosa Parks Library and Museum, 252 Montgomery St. (tel. 334/241-8661; http://montgomery.troy.edu/rosaparks/museum), with a replica of the bus Parks rode, video images, and a multimedia tableau. Wonderful interactive displays throughout the museum engage children in Parks's inspiring life as an activist. King's role, of course, was pivotal, as you'll learn on the guided tour of the neat Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, 454 Dexter Ave. (tel. 334/263-3970; www.dexterkingmemorial.org), where King used his pulpit to press for social change. Even more evocative is the Dexter Parsonage Museum, 309 S. Jackson St. (tel. 334/261-3270; www.dexterkingmemorial.org), a simple white bungalow that's been furnished as it was in the 1950s, when King and his family lived here: You can see the study where he wrote his sermons, the dining room where activists met to plan the boycott, and a front window shattered by a bomb meant to scare King off his campaign. Downtown, the black granite Civil Rights Memorial, 400 Washington Ave., designed by Maya Lin, pays tribute to those who fought for racial equality.
You have to credit Alabama for embracing this anguished chapter of its past. Birmingham, 90 miles north of Montgomery, has an entire downtown district memorializing civil rights events: engrossing displays (segregated water fountains, a bombed-out bus, King's jail cell) in the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, 520 16th St. N. (tel. 205/328-9696; www.bcri.org); the historic 16th St. Baptist Church, 1530 6th Ave. N. (tel. 205/251-9402; www.16thstreetbaptist.org), where a 1963 bombing by the Ku Klux Klan killed four girls; and outdoor Kelly Ingram Park, where a paved Freedom Path recounts crucial events with plaques and sculptures. An hour's drive west of Montgomery in Selma, you can see the Edmund Pettus Bridge, site of the 1965 "Bloody Sunday" riot, where a voting-rights protest march met brutal resistance from police and local vigilantes, then stop in the National Voting Rights Museum, 6 U.S. 80 E. (tel. 334/418-0800; www.nvrm.org), which displays artifacts about voter-registration campaigns -- just one phase of the war for civil rights in America.
Nearest Airport: Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International, 90 miles to Montgomery.
Where to Stay: $$ Embassy Suites Montgomery, 300 Tallapoosa St., Montgomery (tel. 334/269-5055; www.embassysuites.com). $$$ The Redmont, 2101 Fifth Ave. N., Birmingham (tel. 877/536-2085 or 205/324-2101; www.theredmont.com).