National Civil Rights Museum President Tells of Renovation, Encourages Involvement

November 21, 2013

Campus News

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Ms. Beverly Robertson, president of the National Civil Rights Museum, spoke at chapel November 15 about the $40 million renovation project that is improving the visitor experience and setting up an endowment that will secure the institution into the future. She urged students to get involved with the museum and its programs, especially with the grand re-opening activities in February and March.

“As many of you know, the National Civil Rights Museum is located at the historic Lorraine Motel, which is the site of the assassination of Dr. [Martin Luther] King, April 4, 1968,” Robertson said. “We are the only museum in the world that chronicles key episodes of the American Civil Rights Movement. We do so to inspire participation in civil and human rights.”

Robertson shared a brief history of the motel and the efforts to form a foundation “to take a site of great tragedy and turn it into an educational triumph.” Since the museum opened in 1991, it has welcomed more than 3.5 million visitors from around the world. Through the annual Freedom Awards, the museum has honored leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, (Jewish-American activist) Elie Weisel, and Oprah Winfrey.

Today, some 22 years later, an update is needed, Robertson said. While preserving iconic elements such as the Montgomery Bus, the Sit-In Counter, and the Memphis Sanitation Truck, the renovations will provide more immersive environments that put visitors in the places where history was made, including a cramped ship’s hold that replicates slave quarters, a Supreme Court courtroom that brings to mind the Brown v. Board of Education hearing, and an Albany jail cell that recalls the arrests of civil rights crusaders. The courtyard has listening posts, installed in May, that tell important stories and promote museum exhibits.

An updated museum design will guide visitors through five centuries of history, the website states, “from the slave ships, through the Civil War and Reconstruction, through the rise of Jim Crow, and the seminal events of the late 20th century that inspired people around the world to stand up for their rights and the rights of others.”

Grand re-opening activities are slated for the last week in February, a celebration that will include a poetry slam for 15-25 year olds, a book fair, an opening gala, a theater production, an educational program on the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act (August 10, 2014), and a community day, which will include a parade and performances. Opening day is March 1. Robertson encouraged students to volunteer at the museum, become youth members, and participate in the poetry slam and community day.

“This is not African-American history,” she said. “This is American history.”

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