The Center for Civil and Human Rights is Atlanta’s newest museum, located at Pemberton Place in the Centennial Olympic Park tourism area, alongside the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca Cola and the CNN Center. It opened in June 2014 after over ten years of planning and preparation. The museum received much fanfare, being listed as a reason to visit Atlanta in the New York Times ’52 Places to Visit in 2014.’ It’s an important landmark for Atlanta, which was a hub of activity during the Civil Rights Movement and the birthplace of the late Martin Luther King Jr.
The building’s architecture is a result of a number of entries before the selection of Philip Freelon’s concept. He is known for his work in designing Washington DC’s Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Museum of the African Diaspora. In addition to the work on the exterior, the museum’s interactive exhibits were creatively organized by award-winning Broadway director George C. Wolfe. The exhibit on human rights was curated by Jill Savitt, a consultant to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The 42,000 square feet facility has something to offer every visitor young and old, from those who remember the civil rights era to those growing up in a time when rights for the LGBT, immigrant, handicapped and female communities are being fought for. Its messages are timely and will frequently be updated to reflect the times. The staff of the museum are also highly educated on the topics presented to answer any questions you may have.
Among the galleries are the Voice to the Voiceless: The Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection, which features pieces that had previously been housed at the historically black college. It includes pieces of paper bearing speeches King wrote, including his notes and markings, his travel case, his briefcase, and a copy of the eulogy he gave for the victims of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama.
Perhaps the most significant exhibit is Rolls Down Like Water: The American Civil Rights Movement, which includes information on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the history of the Civil Rights Movement with special attention paid to the March on Washington, the bus boycotts and King’s untimely death at the hands of an assassin in Memphis. It also includes panels on school integration, lunch counter sit ins, the freedom riders and key players in the movement like John Lewis, Andrew Young and Jesse Jackson.
What sets this museum apart from other museums that cover the topic of the Civil Rights Movement is the inclusion of the fight for human rights in the modern age. Spark of Conviction: The Global Human Rights Movement features narratives on modern genocide, from Nazi Germany to today’s Darfur, as well as the price of commercialism for disenfranchised groups. Individual narratives are showcased from a female in Iran, a gay woman in Russia, a Latino immigrant, an African male against sex crimes in war and many others.
The Center for Civil and Human Rights will also have an exhibition area that changes every few months, which is currently the John Lewis Series by Georgia artist Benny Andrews. It has a dozen works of art based on events in the life of Congressman John Lewis, the Civil Rights activist and author.
If You Go
The National Center for Civil and Human Rights is located at 100 Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard, Atlanta, Georgia 30308. It’s open daily from 10 am to 5 pm, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Tickets cost $15 for adults and $10 for children aged 3-12.
Parking is available at the deck next to the World of Coca-Cola or from the many paid surface lots nearby. The museum is accessible from the CNN Center or Civic Center MARTA stations, as well as the Atlanta Streetcar stop at Centennial Olympic Park, which puts you on the opposite side of the park. From I-75 and I-85 South, take exit 249C for Williams Street and turn right on Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard. You will see the museum straight ahead. From I-75 and I-85 North, take exit 249D for Spring Street/West Peachtree Street, where you’ll turn right onto Spring Street and bear right onto Centennial Olympic Park Drive. The museum will be on your left at Ivan Allen.
I visited the Center for Civil and Human Rights in partnership with the museum and Porter Novelli Public Relations for the purposes of writing this article, but all opinions are my own.