Emotional. That’s how my elementary-aged child described the civil rights museum Atlanta is known for. He was not alone – our entire family was impacted by our visit to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights museum.
When people see others make sacrifices for their convictions, it’s one of the most powerful teachers. – Bernard LaFayette, Freedom Rider
How could people be so cruel to each other? I honestly don’t know, but I do know that in order to prevent such things from happening again, we need to learn about them. Talk about them. Try to understand.
The Center for Civil and Human Rights gives you a platform to talk about human rights issues from the global human rights movement to the American Civil Rights Movement. Here are a few of the exhibits that really took our family conversations to a new level.
The Lunch Counter
The most talked about exhibit at the Atlanta civil rights museum is the lunch counter. It’s recommended that guest be 10 or over in order to experience this and here is why – Guests sit down at the counter, close their eyes and put on headphones to be transported back to a Woolworth lunch counter as an African-American participant in a sit-in.
All around you is crashing glass and threats of physical violence. The bar stools bounce and rock in cadence with the heckler’s jeers. My 10-year-old made it for about 40 seconds. I won’t give away what made him take off the headphones, but let’s just say it got his attention. From the moment I put my hands on the counter, I could feel my body tense up, and that was before the experience even began.
Want to visit, but not sure how Downtown Atlanta and the attractions are handling COVID? We went recently and thought they were doing a magnificent job. Read all about it here: Why you should visit Atlanta NOW.
2020 Note: The interactive exhibits in the museum are all closed off because of COVID except this one. There is a museum staff member ensuring only one group of people at a time sit at the lunch counter. They also sanitize the counter between guests, and the headphone sets are one-time use, for you alone.
The Freedom Bus
The Freedom Rides were a series of bus trips through the American South to protest segregation in interstate bus terminals. This exhibit is a bus wrapped with the mug shots of those who were arrested during the 1961 Freedom Rides. On the outside of the bus you’ll hear first hand accounts of the rides. Take a seat inside the bus to see actual footage of the violence riders experienced during the campaign that eventually led to the desegregation of interstate transit terminals. Note this exhibit is currently closed for COVID
The Problem We All Live With
Norman Rockwell is best known for his paintings of the perfect America, which is one reason his painting of little 6-year-old Ruby Bridges integrating William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans in 1960 is so powerful.
This exhibit goes into more detail about the painting and its impact. As a mother, it’s the acts of hatred and violence against the children that seem so unbelievable. I know kids can be cruel, but these were adults throwing tomatoes at a first grader entering a new school for the first time. Under normal circumstances that would be difficult. Under these, I can’t imagine.
The Lorraine Motel
Climb the stairs to the second story balcony at the Lorraine Motel and learn about the death of Martin Luther King Jr. from a bullet shot by James Earl Ray, in Memphis TN. There are also photos and information about MLK’s funeral that took place in Atlanta, GA.
We’ve made plans to head to the National Civil Rights Museum at the actual Lorraine Motel (one of the important and tragic historic sites in the Civil Rights Movement) later this winter because the exhibit here in Atlanta was so touching.
The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Collection
Here you’ll find a rotating collection of items from the Morehouse College Martin Luther Jr. Collection, including personal papers and items of Dr King.
I think the most interesting item I saw were the hand-written notes for his acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize. I can just imagine him sitting in a chair, probably drinking some ice tea, laboring over his words. It made my heart pound and my hands sweat. This man truly knew the power of his words.
How To Visit and Save
National Center for Civil and Human Rights is part of the Atlanta CityPASS. The museum is located at 100 Ivan Allen Blvd, on the edge of Centennial Olympic Park in Downtown Atlanta and within walking distance of the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola which are also on the Atlanta CityPASS. You can Save over 40% with CityPASS.