Atlanta’s Center for Civil and Human Rights –Top Reason to Visit Atlanta

 

If someone is planning a trip to the US from abroad the Center for Civil and Human Rights is one very good reason to include a visit to Atlanta on his or her itinerary.   For the many Americans who relate to the Civil Rights movements of the 60’s as one of our finest hours --or perhaps even more so for those who have forgotten or never knew this history—the Civil and Human Rights Center is a must-see Atlanta attraction not to be missed.

 

 

For more serious scholars, the tour might begin in the lower level’s presentation of many letters, manuscripts, meeting notes, and more from Martin Luther King Jr.’s pen selected from the Morehouse College Collection of King’s works.   Some of these are typewritten and some are directly from his hand.   For example, you’ll be able to see the original manuscript for “Why We Choose Jail Rather Than Bail”, read telegrams to Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson, read memos about the Chicago Freedom Movement in 1966, the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968, and then savor King’s “Diary from the Albany Jail” of 1962.   

 

 

The beauty of the exhibits upstairs is in how the story of segregation and the civil rights struggle is told through interactive and multimedia displays that speak to every age and experience level. 

 

 

As you enter old time TVs broadcast the hate speech racist words of segregationists.  As one speech ends a message comes on telling you to change the channel, which then lets you hear another segregationist rant that is even worse than the one before.   It would be interesting to know if this exhibit is more shocking to those of us who were alive during those years or those who came later.   When we visited the response of several people listening to these rants was to turn around to roll their eyes at anyone nearby--anyone.   It was just too much to take in without comment of some kind.

 

 

A very popular exhibit for which older children and teens queued up with great interest was one where they heard the types of taunts that lunch counter sit in demonstrators had to face in headphones while they were challenged to keep their hands perfectly still.   So literally hands-on, this exhibit goes right to the heart of conveying the discipline of practicing non-violence.   It is simply brilliant. 

 

 

You move from explanatory panels to photos and videos showing the likes of Bull Connor’s dogs and water cannons attacking demonstrators. 

 

 

Another highlight is a continuously looped film about the famous 1963 March on Washington, with a panoramic screen sewing together a collage of vignettes and facts about the day and what it meant, culminating in a long snippet of King’s speech.   This is extremely rousing and could be the finale of the tour but much more awaits.

 

While the recent film “Selma” has been criticized for giving LBJ short shrift that is certainly not the case here.  He, like many of the white politicians and business leaders profiled in the museum, is given a balanced portrait that conveys how they moved from early segregationist ways to being important players in de-segregating the South.  

 

If you linger though, perhaps the most moving aspect of this museum is how the lesser known names of the Civil Rights story—both alive and dead—are preserved and their stories told as a way to tell the larger story.  This tour is an emotional ride. Whether it’s four little girls killed in a Birmingham bombing, images of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner’s bodies being dredged from the river or the scores of other Freedom Riders who helped re-write our history, this museum gives the struggle for civil rights a very human face.

 

 

If you are visiting Atlanta for a convention or for other reasons have a limited time budget for touring the Center for Civil and Human Rights should be your top tour pick. 

 

Center for Civil and Human Rights

100 Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd.

Atlanta, Georgia

 

Daily hours of operation are:

  • Monday-Saturday: 10:00 a.m.– 5:00 p.m.
  • Sunday: 12:00 p.m.–5:00 p.m.

The building is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Avoid the queue by purchasing advance tickets online or by phone at +1.678.999.8990

 

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Photos:  Peter Kachergis unless otherwise indicated

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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