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Tiny Marion, Alabama, is a small country town that plays an out-sized role in civil rights history.
Coretta Scott King’s hometown, it’s located 30 miles north of Selma on AL 45. It’s where Martin Luther King Jr., was married, and where the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson happened, sparking the Selma-to-Montgomery march. A civil rights traveler will find several things to do in Marion.
In February 1965, Jackson, a 26-year-old veteran and church deacon was gunned down by state police during a peaceful protest. The group, which included Jackson’s mother and younger sister were marching to the county jail where Birmingham pastor James Orange was held for trying to register voters. Today, a marker outside the jail remembers the civil rights leader. But keep quiet: a sign warns visitors not to talk to inmates.
Local residents were afraid Orange was going to be lynched, which led to the night-time protest.
Sometime during the confrontation, the street lights went out, and police began beating protesters and journalists. Jackson and his family fled into a cafe, where he was beaten and shot by police. Eight days later, he died.
The death led to calls for a march to Montgomery to deliver Jackson’s body to the state capitol, which eventually became the Selma to Montgomery march.
Today, you can visit the grave of Jimmie Lee Jackson. It’s located in Heard Cemetery, a former slave burial ground, about a 3.5 miles east of town on the south (right) side of the road. Over the years it has been vandalized.
Coretta Scott King’s home
Martin Luther King certainly knew Marion and the Selma area.
His wife, Coretta Scott, grew up in the small community of North Perry, north of Marion. The couple, who had met he had met while attending divinity school in Boston, were married at the Mt. Tabor AME Zion Church, which was located next to Scott’s home, where her father ran a grocery.
Today you can follow the Coretta Scott King Memorial Highway (AL 29), and see the church and her family’s home. The church is marked by a larger-than-life-sized monument to Mrs. King.
Nearby, it’s worth taking a trip to the Safe House Museum, where King found shelter from the Klan. It was founded by a childhood friend of Coretta Scott.
Marion’s also near Perry Lakes Park, which has several innovative designs from the Auburn Rural Studios architecture program.
The Alabama Tourism Department offers a free app to guide travelers on the Alabama Civil Rights Trail.
You’ll find many major motel chains in Selma. While options are limited in Marion, there’s a new Sleep Inn motel, 1605 Highway 5, Marion, Alabama 36756
And also Amenities Boutique Bed and Breakfast, 112 E Green Street, Marion, Alabama 36756
You’ll find more lodging options 30 miles away in Selma, but even there it’s important to book ahead. Most its chain motels luster along Highland Avenue (US 80), about two miles from the Pettus Bridge. Here are your best options:
Hampton Inn Selma A top-rated property with pool and free breakfast.
Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Located next to the Hampton and at a similar price point, you’ll find a pool and smoke-free rooms.
Quality Inn Selma A little less fancy, but still offers more than the basics, with a gym, pool and business center.
Comfort Inn Like the Quality Inn, you’ll get the basics, but still a clean, well-managed place to spend the night.
The St. James Hotel Although it’s closed now, it should reopen soon. This historic inn has by far the best location overlooking the Alabama River, but it has gone through numerous owners and partial renovations over the years. Its plan to reopen in 2020 have been delayed by Covid-19. But once it’s open, it’s a great place to stay.
Great Selma AirBnB options
Although the hotel scene isn’t inspiring, Selma does have a nice collection of AirBnbs in a century-old renovated downtown building.
The five light-filled Woolworth Lofts are the most stylish places to stay in the city, with preserved stained-glass window accents, Keurig coffee makers, and coffee table books highlighting the region. The only drawback is the flight of stairs which would pose a challenge to travelers using a wheelchair.
Also, consider the Bridge Tender House, an 1884 Victorian one-bedroom cottage that literally overlooks the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Marion is not far from Greensboro, home to the famed Pie Lab, a James Beard-Award winning restaurant and community-supported project. With savory and sweet pies, you really can’t go wrong. These have been called the best pies in the south. You can even order pies for shipping.
Willard’s Original BBQ, 12267 Highway 5, Marion, Alabama 36756, is a local favorite.