The Center for Civil and Human Rights opened in Atlanta, Georgia on June 23rd , 2014. This museum is dedicated to exploring the fundamental rights of every human being and inspiring communities through its exhibits. This 42,000-square-foot facility is next to two major tourist attractions, The World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium. It was first imagined by civil rights activist Evelyn Lowery and former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young. However, it was not until former Mayor of Atlanta Shirley Franklin that the museum became a significant project for the city.
The museum took more of a modern design compared to other civil rights museums. The layout consists of three floors, each contributing to a specific theme. The main floor contains galleries and exhibits concerning civil rights movement during the sixties and seventies. The top floor dedicates the area to human rights around the world. This area discusses the issues of human trafficking, poverty, genocide, and LGBTQ fight for rights. The bottom floor is dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. and his important work. By utilizing this type of layout, the visitors can grasp a more cohesive connection between the civil rights movement and global human rights.
With the modern style and unique layout, the founders wish to accomplish their mission with the museum, its universal mission states,
“to empower people to take the protection of every human’s right personally. Through sharing stories of courage and struggle around the world, The Center encourages visitors to gain a deeper understanding of the role they play in helping to protect the rights of all people.”
The museum also bases its lessons on a document written shortly after World War II called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document discusses a set of basic principles declaring inalienable rights for everybody and was used as a framework for the UN and the museum.
The National Center for Civil and Human Rights shares the story of the civil rights movement in the United States in the context of human rights. This was done by centering the museum on stories.
Historical and Cultural Context
The Center for Civil and Human Rights was not the first civil rights museum to be made in the United States. In 1991, the National Civil Rights Museum was opened in Memphis, Tennessee. The museum was built around the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It was one of the first museums to have an admission charge to visit the exhibits. It was made in Memphis to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated in the city on January 15th, 1929. The museum was one of the first civil rights museums to start the era of “modern exhibits.” These “modern exhibits” emphasized interaction with visitors through new audio and visual technologies. The museum wanted to give as much information on the civil rights movement as possible, therefore, many of its galleries are filled with prints, letters, signs, and other artifacts of the past (Wilson 972). In addition, the museum contained multimodal exhibits, such as the Rosa Parks exhibit, where the visitors can board a real bus and see a mannequin of Rosa Parks.
Although the museum had much success, there were some complaints and controversy. A common complaint from the visitors was how the museum was laid out. It was disorganized and hard to understand because of the abundance of information leading to nowhere. Another main concern was the admission charge and the necessity for a fee. Many people questioned the need for fees because the initial investments and capital were paid for by the state, city, and individual donors. However, the biggest public controversy was the eviction of residents at the Lorraine Motel. The driving force of this current protest is Jacqueline Smith, who was evicted from the motel after working there for 15 years. She urges visitors to boycott the museum for evicting people who are now homeless (Wilson 975).
Apart from the many controversies, The National Civil Rights museum was an inspiration for future museums, one being the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. The Center was constructed in the hometown of Martin Luther King Jr., Atlanta, giving importance to the location. One of the museums first exhibit was “Rolls Down Like Water: American Civil Right Movement,” which engaged visitors to the real-life experiences of individuals during the Jim Crow laws (Rothstein). Another famous exhibit was the mock sit-in counter, where visitors wear headphones to hear the insults and harassment, as well as feeling the seats move to mimic protestors of the late 50’s. The museum in Atlanta used many of the interactive exhibits from the museum in Memphis as inspiration to connect the visitors to the history of the civil rights movement. It led the visitors to understand events, such as Greensboro sit-ins, and how it impacted the lives of African Americans in a segregated community. The focus on the civil rights movement and its impact shows how much that period was an afterlife of slavery through the fight for freedom and equality and its effect on the lives of African Americans today.
Themes and Style
Through its design and exhibits, the National Center for Civil and Human rights attempts to “bridge domestic and international rights movements” (Margolis). The design of the Center for Civil and Human Rights uses a combination of permanent and traveling exhibits to engage visitors in Civil and Human Rights. The permanent exhibit is designed to explore the Fundamental Rights created by the United Nations. This is broken down into collections with content from the American Civil Rights Movement and the Global Civil Rights Movement. The combination of both American and Global collection allows viewers to understand that Civil Rights is important not only on the local level, but also in the international community. The permanency of both these collections serve as a reminder of the everlasting necessity of the protection of all human rights.
The traveling exhibit serves as a method to provide a new look into human rights from a unique point of view. At the time of writing this, the current traveling exhibit involves sports and athletes and how they shape social justice. This exhibit is a unique way to explore human rights and how athletes have influence on breaking social inequality. In addition, the traveling exhibit can be booked by other Civil Rights Museums in the world. Created by the Center for Civil and Human Rights, this exhibit directly reflects the Center’s mission to “strengthen the worldwide movement for human rights.”
In addition, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights includes exhibits about disability and LGBT Rights. Through an exhibit with video statements of people whose rights had been violated, viewers are able to connect to those people and feel what they went through. This exhibit connects back to the main exhibit that is designed to explore the Fundamental Rights by displaying the spread of the declaration made by the United Nations.
The National Center for Civil and Human Rights also includes a collection of Martin Luther King, Jr’s manuscripts and artifacts. This collection includes artifacts “rotating from the 13,000 items of the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Collection” (Rothstein). The inclusion of Martin Luther King Jr’s works is important because he is the face of the civil rights movement in the United States. By including his work, the Center is able to help people make the connection between the Civil Rights movement in the United States to other movements around the world in both civil and human rights. This connection can be made because most people learn and honor the legacy Martin Luther King, Jr left in both primary and secondary school and will understand the connection he has to other rights movements around the world.
The exterior of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights also pays tribute to the intention of the Center. The intention to “take the protection of every human’s rights personally” can be seen in the fact that the building is designed as “two hands cupped to hold something precious” (Rothstein). This shows just how much detail went into every aspect of the Center to reflect its mission.
The Center for Civil and Human Rights is intended to “empower people to take the protection of every human’s rights personally,” but is it able to fulfill this lofty goal? The process to create such a memorial is extremely important. According to the creation of a Human Rights memorial in Chile, “Memorials in post-conflict societies are all about process” (Sodaro). During the creation of the Center, various museums on civil rights from around the globe were visited to determine the possible success of the Center. It was determined that “the Center needed to connect to contemporary concerns” (Emerson). This need for a modern connection really creates a unique aspect where the museum’s message is able to remain current with the times. In particular, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee was a foundation for the Center for Civil and Human Rights. Its “partisan effort to persuade visitors to act” reflects the purpose of the museum located in Atlanta (Wilson). By combining the effort of persuading visitors with a contemporary theme, the Center for Civil and Human Rights is able to create an environment where all people are able to “take the protection of every human’s rights personally.”
The addition of Martin Luther King, Jr’s manuscripts creates a connection to the location of the Center. People in the United States have a respect towards Martin Luther King, Jr and his role towards the Civil Rights movement in their country. By having Martin Luther King, Jr’s manuscripts on display in an environment advocating civil and human rights on a global scale, people would be able to see that he had an even greater affect around the world. Also, the presence of a Martin Luther King, Jr exhibit indicates the fact that the creators of the Center were inspired by the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee that also includes exhibits on Martin Luther King, Jr. This means that there are museums located both in his birthplace and where he died.
The National Center for Civil and Human Rights aims to empower its visitors to protect every human’s rights. This is done through three unique galleries focusing on topics from civil rights in the United States to human rights internationally.
Overall, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights is a well thought out educational building on the importance of civil and human rights. With a wide range of exhibits that reflect other successful museums from around the world, the creators of the museum took the correct steps in creating a museum that “empowers people to take the protection of every human’s rights personally.”
Emerson, Bo. “How new rights museum carries Atlantas story forward.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 20 June 2014.
GPB Education. Inside The Center For Civil And Human Rights. 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUb5ahnkIY0. Accessed 12 Apr 2018.
Margolis, Mary Elizabeth. “New Center for Civil and Human Rights Bridges Domestic and International Rights Movements.” Human Rights First, Human Rights first, 22 June 2014.
Perkins+Will. The National Center For Civil And Human Rights In Atlanta. 2018, https://vimeo.com/130128322. Accessed 12 Apr 2018.
Rothstein, Edward. “National Center for Civil and Human Rights Opens in Atlanta.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 22 June 2014.
Sodaro, Amy. “THE MUSEUM OF MEMORY AND HUMAN RIGHTS: ‘A Living Museum for Chile’s Memory.’” Exhibiting Atrocity: Memorial Museums and the Politics of Past Violence, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, Camden, Newark, New Jersey; London, 2018, pp. 111–137. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1v2xskk.9.
Wilson, Amy. “National Civil Rights Museum.” The Journal of American History, vol. 83, no. 3, 1996, pp. 971–976. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2945652.
United States Civil Rights Trail. Photograph of the Memphis Lorraine Motel. Civil Rights Trail. civilrightstrail.com/attraction/national-civil-rights-museum
“Civil Rights Museum In Atlanta | The Center For Civil And Human Rights”. Center For Civil And Human Rights, 2018, https://www.civilandhumanrights.org/. Accessed 27 Feb 2018.
Massey, Douglas S. “The Past & Future of American Civil Rights.” Daedalus, vol. 140, no. 2, 2011, pp. 37–54. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23047450.
McNair, Charles. “Emory Magazine.” The Dream Center, Emory Magazine, www.emory.edu/EMORY_MAGAZINE/2009/spring/center.html.
“Universal Declaration Of Human Rights”. Un.Org, 2018, http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/. Accessed 27 Feb 2018.
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