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The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute: A Brief History

In the account that follows, Lawrence J. Pijeaux, Jr., the President and CEO of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute describes the museum’s origins in the powerful and poignant story of the struggle for racial justice in Alabama’s largest city in the 1960s. 

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a group of black and white Birmingham citizens had a dream: to take the lessons learned and victories gained during Alabama’s Civil Rights Movement and create an educational and research center that would influence the struggle for human rights all over the world.  Why Birmingham as the location for such an institution?  In the 1950s and 1960s, Birmingham was the scene of some of the greatest resistance to racial desegregation in America.

In 1956, a group of black ministers, under the leadership of Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth, organized the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR).  The group believed a more direct, nonviolent attack on racism was necessary.  Birmingham was the place where an undaunted desire for equality and unfailing commitment to nonviolence were met with hostile jeers, degrading intimidation, vicious dogs, fire hoses and bombs.  However, the quest for freedom and equality persevered.  The story of the ministers, their churches and congregations—the foot soldiers of the Movement—are told collectively throughout the galleries of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

In 1992, after almost a decade of thoughtful planning and coalition building, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) opened its doors.  It was strongly supported by the City of Birmingham, by almost every major business in the city and hundreds of committed individuals of all races.  An impressive building, designed by architect Max Bond of New York, the Institute stands at the corner of Sixteenth Street and Sixth Avenue North, the anchor in Birmingham’s Civil Rights District.  

This well-manicured heritage tourism area includes the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where four young girls were killed when Klansmen planted a