Explore Kentucky Sites on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail

The U.S. Civil Rights Trail is a collection of churches, courthouses, schools, museums and other landmarks located primarily in the Southern states where activists challenged segregation and other important issues in the 1950s and 1960s to advance social justice.


We invite you to visit and learn more of Kentucky’s Civil Rights story.




1. The Muhammad Ali Center


The Muhammad Ali Center in downtown Louisville 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 one of the world’s finest athletes. 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.


Located on Museum Row, the center captures the inspiration of Ali’s legendary life, and provides programming and events focused on education, gender equity and global citizenship. The center also has a library and archives on-site and displays temporary exhibits throughout the year. A visit to the multicultural center and award-winning museum isn’t just an experience, it’s a journey into the heart of a champion.


Muhammad Ali Center in downtown Louisville.




2. SEEK Museum


About two and a half hours southwest of Louisville is small town Russellville, Kentucky, home of the SEEK Museum. SEEK is an acronym for Struggles of Emancipation and Equality in Kentucky.


The SEEK Museum consists of two separate but related sites, The Bibb House and The Bottom


The SEEK Museum at The Bibb House tells the story of Revolutionary War veteran Major Richard Bibb and the dozens of people he enslaved in the early 19th-century. Bibb eventually emancipated nearly 100 enslaved people, and their struggles for equality in an area of legalized slavery are told. This museum is located at Bibb's 1817 urban plantation that includes his townhouse and the adjacent kitchen/laundry work building. It is one of the few public museums in America that tells the stories of both the slavery and the emancipations that occurred onsite. 


A few blocks away is the SEEK Museum in The Bottom tells the story of the formerly enslaved people who established the vibrant yet segregated residential and commercial neighborhood in Russellville. Museum exhibits about the cultural heritage of the area, segregation, racial violence, and the struggles for civil rights are on display.



3. Berea College


Founded in 1855 by abolitionists, Berea College in Berea was the first interracial and coeducational college in the South, educating “persons of good character” regardless of race, class or gender.


The college remained integrated until 1904, when the Kentucky General Assembly targeted Berea by passing the “Day Law” prohibiting interracial education in private institutions. Although Berea College fought the decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the court upheld the law in 1908. In response, Berea paid tuition for its students to attend all-Black colleges. College trustees also established the Lincoln Institute near Louisville to provide a vocational education to African-American students. The forced segregation continued until 1950, when the law was amended.


During the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, more than 50 Berea students joined Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama, to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge toward Montgomery. Closer to campus, other students marched on the Capitol in Frankfort, staged sit-ins and founded the Black Student Union. 



4. Whitney M. Young Birthplace


Simpsonville is home to the birthplace of Whitney M. Young, Jr. who dedicated his career to the fight for civil rights and justice. Young lived in the simple two-story wooden house, which is currently not open to the public on the campus of the Lincoln Institute of Kentucky, where his father taught, until he was 15.


He went on to devote most of his career to ending employment discrimination in the South and turning the National Urban League from a relatively passive civil rights organization into one that aggressively fought for justice. 


Since his death in 1971 his childhood home was converted into a museum and the Lincoln Institute campus is now the Whitney M. Young Jr., Job Corp Center. The museum can be toured by appointment only.



Whitney M. Young, Jr. Birthplace





5. Louisville Downtown Civil Rights Trail


Throughout the early 1960s, Louisville erupted in a series of demonstrations and protests pushing for social change within its structurally segregated communities. In the summer and fall of 1961, activists initiated a voter registration campaign that elected a new mayor and a new board of aldermen, and on May 1, 1963, the public accommodations ordinance was passed. The Louisville Downtown Civil Rights Trail preserves the legacy of those who participated in the demonstrations through the placement of historic markers throughout the downtown area.



Come take a journey through the Bluegrass State to learn about the unforgettable people and places that were integral to the civil rights movement in Kentucky and nation.  

Related Articles