In downtown Atlanta, Georgia, tucked in between the World of Coca Cola and the Georgia Aquarium, right on the edge of Centennial Olympic park, you will find the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. I hesitate to call it a museum because it is so much more than a look back at the history of the civil rights movement, it also immerses and educates on the challenges and opportunities of today.
This journey starts with a multi-media exploration of the civil rights movement beginning with life in a “separate but equal” south. It segues into milestones from the civil rights movement, at times this look back is disturbing and sobering and thankfully there are tissue boxes strategically stationed because most are moved to tears. Sit on a bus seat and experience some of what the Freedom Riders faced as they worked to desegregate interstate transportation.
Sit at the lunch counter, put on the headphones, close your eyes, put your hands over their hands, and see if you can go a minute and half listening to what these silent protesters faced as they attempted to be served. Most can’t make it the full time, put your hands up to make it stop.
Explore in multi-media the March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs and Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech. As you move through levels in the museum, you will be touched by bombings, beatings, and way too many deaths.
As you ascend to the top floor, the focus turns to global civil and human rights. It focuses on the efforts of the United Nations and many defenders of human rights.
Mandela, Havel, Roosevelt and many more, including modern day defenders that are currently imprisoned or silenced.
The interactive exhibits dive into Women’s Rights as well as exploring how integrated economies and worldwide demand for products like palm oil are impacting populations and land. How does the internet impact human rights? Fascinating topics that warrant much more exploration by all of us as citizens of the world. An afternoon at the Center left me with a list of areas to explore next, including reading the full text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, referred to often a the UDHR, and reading more on Eleanor Roosevelt and Vaclav Havel.
At the top of the Center, there is a fascinating Virtual Reality (VR) experience where you get to immerse your self for about 10 minutes in a human rights story. I traveled to Africa and explored a young girl’s journey to a life changing surgery aboard a Mercy Ship.
The tour ends in the bottom level where many of Martin Luther King Jr.’s papers and artifacts are on display in a room designed to evoke the feel of his Morehouse College office. The display is titled “Voice to the Voiceless.” No photography is allowed in this part of the Center but I’ll leave you with these two images of Dr. King’s writings and images.
One of the things that surprised me was that my hometown of Omaha, Nebraska was listed as a key riot location during the Civil Rights movement. I will be researching this further and visiting some of that history the next time I’m in Omaha. https://northomahahistory.com/2013/07/19/a-history-of-the-north-omaha-riots/
Even if you can’t get to Atlanta to experience the center, my hope is that this sparked your interest in doing some of your own reading and research. Education and action are the keys to continuing to make Freedom and Dignity a reality for everyone.
I’ll also be listening to the song “We Shall Overcome” as I was too young to have known it but as it was played in many parts of the exhibit and it was clear that most people knew it as they were singing and humming along.