The buildings are humble, functional. There are sturdy, redbrick churches and modest houses with deep porches beneath overhangs that ward off the heavy Southern heat. There’s even a barbershop, its row of seats where customers wait like a congregation kneeling before an altar.
Seemingly unremarkable pieces of 20th-century America, these structures are in fact quite the contrary: extraordinary artifacts of the Civil Rights Movement, places where Martin Luther King Jr. preached, where Freedom Riders found shelter from mobs, and where social-justice activists huddled to strategize their nonviolent quest for human rights. More than a dozen such structures in Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, have now been placed on the 2018 World Monuments Watch, a biennial list of cultural sites at risk of decay or destruction.
The World Monuments Fund (WMF), which administers the Watch, is most often associated with preserving places of undisputed beauty, like the Taj Mahal, or archaeological significance, such as Machu Picchu. Indeed, among the 24 other places on the 2018 Watch are a 12th-century minaret in Mosul, Iraq, and the Jewish Quarter in Essaouira, Morocco. Joshua David, WMF’s president and CEO, says the Alabama locations fit into an evolving mission to recognize “places that reflect the most treasured human values.
“We tend to know this part of American history through indiv