Yesterday my friend Emily and I visited the new Center for Civil and Human Rights here in Atlanta. It just opened last month, so we were pretty excited to see it for the first time.
The second floor is about the Civil Rights movement here in the US. They have managed to include some good interactive portions so it’s not solely standing and reading. The most memorable part, to me, was the lunch counter demonstration. You sit at a lunch counter with a screen in front of you full of images from the era of inside sit-in protests and the reactions to them. But then you also put head phones on, close your eyes and place your hands on the counter. As you do, sound begins to feel your ears. It puts you in the place of the demonstrators. You hear people mocking you, yelling at you and even whispering in your ear. It’s eery how real the whispering feels, like it’s on your own neck and right next to you. My eyes, and so many others I saw, were filled with tears as I stood up, with a little better understanding of what that reality was like. Of course, there is also an emphasis on Atlanta and Georgia. The local info was really interesting, as I wasn’t that aware of how things played out here in Atlanta. While there was tension, as there was everywhere in the South, it remained well, more civil. It was, in fact, a stark contrast to the horrible things you heard from so many other areas in the region like Alabama and Mississippi. It really set the tone for Atlanta to become a more modern and progressive city. Martin Luther King, Jr. and numerous other activists and organizations were located here, but I never thought about the demonstrations, bus rides and the like happening in other cities and states because they weren’t needed as much in Atlanta. We even heard a older black woman sharing her personal experiences of growing up in the South and the things she faced with a few others. If it hadn’t looked odd, I think we would’ve both just followed her around the whole place!
Almost the entire third floor was reserved for Human Rights. It had some really cool interactive elements, including mirrored holograms when you walk in. You scroll through different types (Christian, Muslim, Blogger, Activist, Gay, Woman, Child, etc.), press one, and then hear personal stories of people who have had their rights violated all over the world. These are not the people who have books written about them, but are just as important. Their stories matter. There is also an Offenders and Defenders wall where you can see the heroes and villains of human rights. It was heartbreaking to see the number of lives represented in the Offenders section—millions and millions of people over the last century. But just as inspiring on the other side of the wall to see how many people’s lives were made better by the Defenders. After that, there was also a section on supply chain, showing you how your everyday purchases can help and hurt others. I’m really glad they included this part as it shows everyone’s involvement at an individual level and what to do about it. It doesn’t matter if you care about these issues or not, you still play a role in them. At the back of the main room, there is also a political freedom map which shows you countries where people are free, partly free or not free. There are also smaller exhibits on the role of technology and media, and touch screens where you can learn more about specific issues that are important to you. I also really liked that they told you ways to get involved in issues with the amount of time you have available.
The first floor, which we only really discovered as we were bout to leave because you actually enter the building on the second floor, was a MLK photography exhibit. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and were unable to see it. But we’re both looking forward to returning soon! I think this floor will have rotating exhibits.
My favorite part of the visit, I think, was watching a father escort his two elementary-aged sons through the center. He stopped and told them, in their language, what things meant and how important it is for them to know. It was the sweetest, most encouraging thing. After all, what good am I to this movement if I never share it with anyone else? Maybe the most impact I’ll have on these issues is telling someone about it with a greater capacity than myself to do something that creates change.
I love that this center is open and here where I live. If you are in the Atlanta area, be sure to stop by and bring others with you. If not, plan on making a trip. (For those of you with families, it’s literally beside the Aquarium and World of Coke.) It was encouraging to see the place crawling with people, young and old, with many colors and backgrounds. The website says an average visit is 75 minutes, but if you are truly interested in these subjects, plan on much longer. We were there three hours, and could’ve easily spent another!
Unlike many museums I visit, I think I would’ve been happy to sit at the door all day and just ask everyone who entered why they were there. There would have surely been some fascinating stories!
I also felt a strange sense of connection to everyone around me. It was a place of like-minded people. We were there because we believe in the mission. We were drawn there because people matter. I don’t think we gathered there because of any particular names on the walls, but because those walls were needed. We mourned, we celebrated and we were changed.