ATLANTA – Atlanta, the cradle of the civil rights movement, finally has a museum that tells its story.
On Monday, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights opens its doors, offering visitors a history of the freedom movement and an accounting of the modern human rights activism that civil rights pioneers inspired.
The museum is housed downtown in an elegantly curved structure with a moss roof. The downtown facility offers scholarship, a walk through history and some consciousness-raising.
A gallery called Rolls Down Like Water: The American Civil Rights Movement is a theatrical experience.
Visitors walk through an anteroom papered with everyday scenes from the pre-civil rights era. On the right, in neon script, is the word “Colored,” over photos of nightlife, the Black Crackers baseball team and church services. On the left under “White” are similar scenes — featuring bobby soxers and college football.
Farther along is a wall emblazoned with Jim Crow laws banning interracial marriage and requiring separate restrooms for white and black customers of public facilities.
Then visitors pass through defining moments, including the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, that usher them into a wash of sound and video.
Films show police dogs attacking protesters and there’s a wall-size photo of Emmett Till and a life-size re-creation of a Freedom Rider bus, covered with portraits of actual Freedom Riders. Some of the photographs are interactive, and can trigger a short audio narrative.
The most dramatic installation is an interactive lunch counter at which guests don headphones and experience a simulation of a 1960a sit-in. Taped voices level threats, and a vibrating jolt gives the impression that someone has just kicked the visitor’s chair.
In the next room, a panoramic screen tells the story of the 1963 March on Washington. Then, past a stained-glass tribute to the four young girls killed in the Birmingham church bombing, is a tableau of moments from the day in April 1968 when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered.
Other exhibits focus on the global human rights movement and King artifacts.
It speaks to all sides of King, said Loretta Parham, director of the Atlanta University Center’s Woodruff Library. “Not only his activism, but his life as a student, his life as a preacher and his life as a scholar.”