civil rights march protestors in 1964

Civil Rights

Unbridled Courage

In Kentucky, pride and courage are in our blood. They flow through the rolling hills of green to historic horse tracks and into the depths of Mammoth Cave. An archival black and white image of Civil Rights leader Whitney M. Young, Jr.We celebrate all the men and women who make our commonwealth great, especially the African Americans who stepped forward to reshape our future and, in doing so, connected Kentucky’s heritage to one of our country’s bravest moments.

"Support the strong, give courage to the timid, remind the indifferent, and warn the opposed."

– Whitney M. Young, Jr.

Explore the Kentucky Civil Rights Trail

Lincoln Hall, Berea College Photo

Lincoln Hall, Berea College

101 Chestnut St.
Berea, KY

Louisville Downtown Civil Rights Markers Trail Photo

Louisville Downtown Civil Rights Markers Trail

4th Street, Downtown
Louisville, KY

Muhammad Ali Center Photo

Muhammad Ali Center

144 N. Sixth St.
Louisville, KY 40202

SEEK Museum (Struggles for Emancipation & Equality in Kentucky) Photo

SEEK Museum (Struggles for Emancipation & Equality in Kentucky)

252 S Morgan St
Russellville, KY 42276

Whitney M. Young Birthplace Photo

Whitney M. Young Birthplace

U.S. 60
Simpsonville, KY

Lincoln Hall at Berea College

These days, Berea College – just south of Lexington – is notable for being one of the country’s colleges that students can attend tuition-free. But during the time of its founding, it was notable for helping change the face of American education.

Berea was founded in 1855, specifically to educate black and white students – together. It was a notion that, at the time, was downright revolutionary. Lincoln Hall, the second-oldest structure on campus, was built in 1887. The building of red brick and Kentucky sandstone (quarried from beds just 2.5 miles away) housed classrooms, laboratories, a museum, a library and a student body that was nearly 50% black.

When the Jim Crow doctrine raised its ugly head in Kentucky in 1904, Berea College fought unsuccessfully against the state legislature’s “Day Law,” which mandated segregation. It wasn’t until 1950 that black students walked the campus again. Soon after their return, the students put Berea’s commitment to integration to the test. In the 1960s and ’70s, they called for more African Americans on faculty and in the administration, and staged sit-ins in the president’s office in the hallowed Lincoln Hall.

You can experience Lincoln Hall’s rich history yourself at this National Historic Landmark on the campus of Berea College. Guided tours are offered Monday through Saturday, starting from the Boone Tavern Hotel Tourist Center. 

Exterior of Lincoln Hall, Berea College, in Berea, Kentucky

Louisville Downtown Civil Rights Trail

In downtown Louisville, Fourth Street was the main drag. The corridor of restaurants, department stores and theatres attracted citizens who wanted to shop, eat and relax. But not every citizen was welcome. The mostly white-owned businesses treated black customers differently. They couldn't try on clothes in department stores, sit at lunch counters or even enter the movie theaters.

In the 1950s, small demonstrations and attempts to bring new legislation on the matter failed. In 1961, however, the mass student demonstrations that would eventually sweep the rest of the South sparked in downtown Louisville. Brave young people put their bodies and their futures on the front lines and led the passage of the first public accommodations ordinance in Louisville – and the first in the South – as well as a landmark voter registration campaign.

Today, many of the businesses that were targeted in those game-changing demonstrations are gone. But there are 11 markers – a trail of blood, sweat, tears and courage – that preserve the history of what happened there and tell the story of one of Louisville’s proudest moments.

You can trace these historic footsteps on the Louisville Downtown Civil Rights Trail, where markers at 22 stops tell the story of this significant movement throughout the city.

A historical marker on the Louisville Downtown Civil Rights Trail

Muhammad Ali Center

A multicultural center with an award-winning museum, the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky, captures the inspiration of Muhammad Ali’s legendary life. A visit to the center is not just an experience but also a journey into the heart of a champion. Two and a half levels of exhibits and galleries invite visitors to explore the history of the Louisville native, world heavyweight champion, global humanitarian and cultural icon and to reflect upon one’s own values, inner strength and character. Located on Museum Row in the heart of downtown Louisville, the Muhammad Ali Center is the only place in the world dedicated to preserving and promoting Ali’s legacy.

Visitors to the center will experience interactive and multimedia exhibits and discover Ali’s six core principles: confidence, conviction, dedication, giving, respect and spirituality. Fueled by these principles, Ali became the best athlete he could be. He also garnered the strength and courage to stand up for what he believed and provided inspiration to millions of people around the world, regardless of ethnicity, religion, culture, gender or age.

The Ali Center, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation, was co-founded by Muhammad Ali and his wife, Lonnie, in their hometown in 2005. In addition to its museum, the center provides programming and events focused on education, gender equity and global citizenship. The Ali Center also displays temporary exhibits throughout the year and has event space, a library and archives on-site.

Exhibit inside the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, KY

SEEK Museum

The SEEK Museum (formerly the West Kentucky African American Museum) in Russellville, KY, is one of two sites recently added to the U.S. Civil Rights Trail.

It introduces visitors to the story of Alice Allison Dunnigan, a Russellville native, who transcended the limitations of segregation and racial and gender inequality to become the first female African-American to be admitted to the White House, Congressional and Supreme Court press corps. It chronicles her career, and interprets her story as a woman nationally recognized as a pioneer in the Civil Rights Movement.

In addition to Ms. Dunnigan's story, the museum features six restored historic buildings, originally constructed between 1815 and 1945, that tell the region’s history of slavery, emancipation, racial violence, segregation and the fight for civil rights in Kentucky. Another highlight of the museum is its archival and research facility that allows visitors to explore their genealogy and cultural heritage.

Exterior of SEEK Museum in Russellville, Kentucky

Whitney M. Young, Jr. Birthplace

Collage showing exterior of Whitney M. Young, Jr. Birthplace, along with an exhibition insideOn the campus of what once the Lincoln Institute, an all-black high school, there is a simple wooden house. There, in 1921, one of America’s greatest Civil Rights leaders was born.

Whitney M. Young, Jr. spent his life and career working to end employment discrimination and, as leader of the National Urban League, transformed the organization into one of the foremost catalysts for socioeconomic equality. His campaign for economic equality for the disenfranchised earned him the admiration of some of the most powerful leaders in the country; he was an adviser to three Presidents––Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon.

Today, you can spend time exploring Young’s legacy at the house where he was born. After his death in 1971, the house was dedicated to his memory and contains photographs, articles and other memorabilia. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1984.

Take a Journey

Now, you can take a remarkable journey that lets you explore those moments, trace their path and walk in the footsteps of giants.

The U.S. Civil Rights Trail guides travelers through the places that were flashpoints for change in the 1950s and ’60s. From the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. to the birthplace of lunch counter sit-ins, the U.S. Civil Rights Trail is a unique travel opportunity. This is more than a trip. It’s a chance to explore the people and places that changed America and inspired the world.

We look forward to welcoming you to the Bluegrass State and our stops on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail.

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