When I went to Atlanta for a professional conference, I made sure to visit the Center for Civil and Human Rights.
Center for Civil and Human Rights – Atlanta, Georgia
The center is beautifully done. As a participant, you are guided through the main portion of the center that follows the timeline of civil rights in the United States. You are confronted with the Jim Crow laws. You see and hear the stories of students, such as Ruby Bridges, who were among the first to desegregate schools. You watch videos of Freedom Riders, including John Lewis, putting their lives on the line to do the right thing. You can experience a lunch counter simulation – which I found to be the most moving aspect of the center – to see just how long you could last sitting at a counter while being threatened and harassed via headphones. I lasted 30 seconds before I started to cry. You experience Selma. You follow the life and death of Martin Luther King, Jr. You pay tribute to the men and women you gave their lives so that I can have civil liberties.
In addition to the main American civil rights portion, there is a collection of Martin Luther King Jr.’s writings, personal items, and artifacts. There is also an exhibit that focuses on current civil rights fights and movements around the world. It shows the faces of human rights violators (Mao, Hitler, Stalin) and activists who are being imprisoned for speaking up. While I was grateful for that portion of the museum, I felt as though I was too emotionally drained to fully appreciate the experience.
I paid close attention to the dates of events as they were presented. As I looked at photos of African American children who were killed for looking at someone the ‘wrong way,’ I thought of how old my father would have been at the time; he was usually either their age or slightly younger. It is so hard to believe that we were so torn as a country just 60-70 years ago. I found myself in tears throughout the experience. Yet I was oddly comforted by the fact that as I looked around the center, I saw that I was not the only one crying. I am so grateful for the men and women who fought for civil rights in the United States and around the world. As I mentioned after my trip to the Apartheid Museum in South Africa, centers such as this are so difficult yet wonderful (and needed). We cannot forget the hate we’ve seen in the past for fear of repeating it in the future. We cannot let hate divide us and we cannot be silent.