Alabama has a long and storied past, intertwined with the history of racism and the Civil Rights Movement. Alabama was the site of some of the era’s highest highs and the lowest lows. Mobile was the site of America’s last lynching, just in 1981. Birmingham earned the moniker “Bomb-ingham” due to the myriad of racially motivated bombings which culminated in the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing. And yet, Alabama was home to Civil Rights icons Rosa Parks & Fred Shuttlesworth, and the site of climactic events such as the Freedom Rides and the Selma to Montgomery March.
Despite these events being in our not-so-distant history, we, as Alabamians, often forget the damage done to minority and underserved communities in our state. The Alabama Civil Rights Trail Podcast is here to walk us though the good, the bad, and the ugly of Alabama’s history with the Civil Rights movement, using Civil Rights Trail landmarks as reference for storytelling.
What is the Civil Rights trail?
The Civil Rights Trail is a collection of historic sites, over 100 locations in approximately 15 states. From areas like Little Rock, Arkansas, all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, the Civil Rights Trail tells the harrowing tale of suffering and injustice during the Civil Rights Era.
The goal (of the entire trail, but to a lesser degree, the podcast) is education through tactile learning—by physically going to these sites, where the Freedom Riders marched, where Bloody Sunday occurred, where the Little Rock Nine walked into school with their heads held high—you can garner a new appreciation for our nation’s frighteningly recent past.
Why a podcast?
So, the Alabama Civil Rights Trail Podcast is a collaboration project with Alabama’s Tourism Department. The Tourism department has a huge commitment to telling the stories of the Civil Rights Movement and telling them right. Their website has a wealth of information on the topic, but they wanted something more vivid, more concrete. Something that really puts you in the shoes of those living through Civil Rights marches.
Enter Tanner Latham and Tanya Ott. Latham is the Alabama Civil Rights Trail Podcast Executive Producer, while Ott is the writer and director for the series. It’s a three-episode saga highlighting the stories of Alabama’s sites on the Civil Rights Trail, complete with primary source interviews. All three episodes have since been released and can be found here.
The first episode discusses the Freedom Riders and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The second discusses Birmingham and the atrocities that happened there. The third and final episode talks about marching for the right to vote, which took place all over Alabama–but more specifically, the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.
For the past year and change, the two have been pouring over archives and taking interviews to create what is, essentially, an audio guide of Alabama’s sites on the Civil Rights Trail.
We wanted something more than a plaque or a sign. We want to give these places, these stories, a voice and really bring them to life. We wanted to make sure that [the Black community] got to tell their story on their own terms.Tanner Latham, Executive Producer of Alabama Civil Rights Trail Podcast
In the effort to give Alabama’s historical sites a voice, Ott and Latham were able to access some audio interviews from those who were actually marching, called “foot soldiers.” These interviews make the story tangible. While no one doubts that there was police brutality during the Civil Rights Movement, there is a genuine difference between a historian remarking on the lives lost and someone who barely survived telling their experience.
To add context and extrapolation, Ott & Latham also interviewed several expert historians. These interviews were an integral part of telling the story, because it allows us to realize exactly why these stories are still so important.
What happened [during the Civil Rights Movement] is incredibly relevant today. Our roots and our history make us who we are. It’s important to look at where we’ve done wrong, see how much has or hasn’t changed, and look for where we can do better. What has already passed is just as important as the present, it’s how we got to where we are today.Tanner Latham, Executive Producer of Alabama Civil Rights Trail Podcast
The main goal of the Alabama Civil Rights Trail Podcast is to give a new voice, a Black voice, to the story of the Civil Rights Movement. Allowing those who were both literally and figuratively “in the trenches” to tell their stories. The 1950s feel like a long time ago, sure, but what is history for today’s youth is very real memories for some of our elders. Telling these stories is a way to keep the story alive, even as those involved start to fade.
The Alabama Civil Rights Trail Podcast can be found at Alabama.Travel/CivilRights or on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you find your podcasts.