One Tank Trips: civil rights history to explore MLK Day weekend

Posted at 8:33 AM, Jan 11, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-12 11:56:04-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The holidays may be over, but many families have a three-day weekend ahead. So, what better time to bring back One Tank Trips?

The MLK Day holiday is a perfect time to hit the road and visit some of Tennessee's best sites on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail.


Nashville was critical to the civil rights movement. Historian David Ewing says your first stop is a no-brainer: the Civil Rights Room in the downtown public library. You can find it on the second floor.

"[The room] is really the closest thing we have to a civil rights museum," Ewing said. "It opened shortly after the library opened twenty years ago and it has videos and photographs, a history timeline and a mock lunch counter, quotes of Dr. King, and it's really a must-see."

Park at the library, and after leaving, walk down Commerce Street to Rep. John Lewis Way to see a new, four-story mural that commemorates Nashville's civil rights heroes and celebrates "good trouble."

Continue up the street to peek inside the Woolworth building where Rep. Lewis helped lead lunch counter sit-ins. The Woolworth is now a theater, but includes a few nods to its historic roots.

Beyond that, walk to Public Square park which houses the new Diane Nash Plaza.

"Diane Nash famously confronted the mayor of Nashville, Ben West, and spoke truth to power," said Ewing. "She asked him that day, 'was segregation at the lunch counters, right?' And he said, 'no' — and that's when the four lunch counters on John Lewis Way decided to finally let African Americans dine there."

Head back toward Broadway for the National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) at Fifth + Broadway, which is open every day except Monday. A historical marker is also located close to the Alliance Bernstein entrance.

If you have time outside of your downtown walking tour, both Fisk University and American Baptist College are stops along the civil rights trail. The universities helped cultivate a generation of activists and freedom riders.

At Fisk Unversity in 1956, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is famously quoted saying, "I came to Nashville not to bring inspiration, but to gain inspiration from the great movement that has taken place in this community."

Ewing says the best way to honor Dr. King is by learning more about his legacy of non-violence, equality and unity.

If you are able to plan an overnight trip, Memphis is another key city in the civil rights movement and includes several stops on the Civil Rights Trail.

Two churches are on the Tennessee Civil Rights Trail: Clayborn Temple, which served as headquarters for the historic 1968 Memphis sanitation workers' strike, and the Mason Temple Church of God in Christ. Mason Temple was the site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "Mountaintop" speech.

The National Civil Rights Museum is a staple in the Civil Rights Trail. Located at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was assassinated, it displays exhibits from 1619 to 2000. On January 16 2023, the museum will host "King Day: An All-Day Celebration" with free admission, special performances and extended hours from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. Entertainment that day will include local artists including the Stax Music Academy Satellite Band and the Grizzlies Drumline, and activities like African drumming and balloon art.

You can't talk Memphis without bringing up Beale Street. For over 150 years, the historic district has hosted legendary musicians like B.B. King, Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, and many more.

On August 27 1956, twelve students at Clinton High School became the first students to desegregate a state-supported high school Tennessee. The school in Anderson County holds the honor of having the first Black person to graduate from a public high school in the South. Visit the Green McAdoo Culture Center in Clinton to explore more about the legacy of the "Clinton 12."

*Mileage calculated from Nashville. On average, vehicles can travel 200 to 400 miles on a full tank of gas. Variables include miles per gallon on your vehicle, gas tank volume, and whether you're driving on a highway or in a city. You can calculate your vehicle's fuel economy at