Ex­plore black his­tory in U.s.

Civil rights cen­tre in Ge­or­gia looks at the strug­gle for free­dom and equal­ity

Edmonton Sun - - TRAVEL - ALEKSANDRA sa­gan

AT­LANTA — At a time of deep di­vi­sions in Amer­ica that in­cludes white na­tion­al­ist ral­lies, trav­ellers to the deep south may want to learn more about the ori­gins of racial di­vides in the coun­try.

The cap­i­tal of Ge­or­gia, a state that in 1859 was the back­drop for one of the largest slave auc­tions in U.S. his­tory with more than 400 adults and chil­dren sold, of­fers a good start­ing point for un­der­stand­ing the civil rights move­ment.

The Na­tional Cen­ter for Civil and Hu­man Rights in At­lanta, sit­u­ated close to down­town, high­lights both lo­cal and global strug­gles.

“I think with to­day’s cli­mate, we have be­come a place where peo­ple are just com­ing to learn. They’re try­ing to fig­ure things out,” said Nicole Moore, the cen­tre’s man­ager of ed­u­ca­tion and con­tent.

They may have seen some­thing on the news and won­dered how and why so­ci­ety got to this point, she said.

The ex­hibits seek to an­swer those ques­tions, as well as show how ac­tivists re­sponded at the time, said Moore, so vis­i­tors can form their own con­clu­sions and de­ter­mine what ac­tion they can take next, such as writ­ing to po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Near the en­trance, a mu­seum aide sug­gests guests nav­i­gate the ex­hibits by level of in­ten­sity, be­gin­ning on the sec­ond floor that’s ded­i­cated to the Amer­i­can civil rights move­ments and houses the in­ter­ac­tive, of­ten emo­tional lunch counter ex­pe­ri­ence, be­fore head­ing up to the third floor where a more global look is pre­sented. Fi­nally, on the first floor, the mu­seum’s Martin Luther King, Jr. col­lec­tion is a ro­tat­ing ex­hi­bi­tion of items.

In the Amer­i­can ex­hibit, a long wall high­lights some of the Jim Crow laws — ones that reg­u­lated racial seg­re­ga­tion — from var­i­ous states, in­clud­ing Ge­or­gia. These laws com­monly pro­hib­ited in­ter-racial mar­riages and man­dated sep­a­ra­tion of peo­ple by race at pub­lic es­tab­lish­ments, like restau­rants or swim­ming pools.

Fur­ther along, guests learn about non-vi­o­lent protests, in­clud­ing the first lunch counter protest in Greens­boro, N.C., where four black stu­dents sat at a whites-only lunch counter at the lo­cal Wool­worth store and re­fused to move. The ac­tion sparked a months-long move­ment.

Vis­i­tors can choose to par­tic­i­pate in an in­ter­ac­tive ex­hibit that aims to im­merse them into the ex­pe­ri­ence of one of the pro­test­ers.

A mock lunch counter is off to one side of the room. Four at a time, a staff mem­ber asks guests to sit down on a bar stool and place their hands on the counter, on top of hand prints drawn on the sur­face. Guests wear head­phones and shut their eyes.

For about 1 minute and 50 sec­onds, they lis­ten to jeers and threats from oth­ers in the imag­ined eatery. The bar stool shakes at one point, sig­nalling the threat of phys­i­cal vi­o­lence.

Moore al­ways tells peo­ple this ex­pe­ri­ence is what “trans­forms” their visit to the cen­tre.

“It be­comes, ‘Could this be me? Would this be me? How would I re­act?”’ she said, cre­at­ing a kind of “come-to-je­sus mo­ment” where peo­ple must grap­ple with whether they’re built for the front lines or an­other as­pect of fight­ing for hu­man rights.

Vis­i­tors can then take that knowl­edge with them through the rest of the cen­tre, which fo­cuses on the global move­ment. There they learn about both his­tor­i­cal and cur­rent abuses, dic­ta­tors and ac­tivists.

“Our goal is to en­sure that peo­ple re­flect on the ex­pe­ri­ences of the Amer­i­can civil rights move­ment to in­spire them to ac­tion — in what­ever way they see fit,” said Shani Drake, di­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing.

“Ul­ti­mately, we hope that their ex­pe­ri­ence here trans­forms them.”

David gold­man/ap Pho­tos

Mug shots of the Free­dom Rid­ers are af­fixed to the side of a model bus as part of an ex­hibit at the Na­tional Cen­ter for Civil and Hu­man Rights in At­lanta.

The Na­tional Cen­ter for Civil and Hu­man Rights.

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