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Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta March 30, 2018

Posted by flashbuzzer in History.
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I recently visited the Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta. The museum showcases the American civil rights movement and raises several difficult questions concerning modern-day injustices.

Here are seven nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the museum.

1. Claudette Colvin was arrested on March 2, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama for refusing to yield her seat on a city bus to a white person. Yet she did not become the public face of the protest against segregation on Montgomery city buses, as she had a child out of wedlock and was relatively dark-skinned (compared to Rosa Parks). Her mother also pressured her to cede the spotlight to Parks.

2. During the preparations for the funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr., Hosea Williams spied a cart outside an antique store in Atlanta. He appropriated it, promising Ralph Abernathy that he would compensate the owner. He also found two mules about twenty miles outside Atlanta to pull this cart during the funeral. King’s body was placed on it during the funeral procession – highlighting his involvement in the Poor People’s Campaign in his latter years.

3. Some Jim Crow laws were particularly absurd, including the following regulations:

  • a white woman carrying a mixed-race child could be imprisoned for up to five years
  • books intended for white school districts should be physically separate from books intended for colored school districts
  • ticket booths at circuses that catered to white and colored patrons, respectively, should be separated by at least twenty-five feet.

4. Bayard Rustin played a crucial role in organizing the March on Washington in 1963; he – and A. Philip Randolph – appeared on the cover of Time in recognition of that landmark event. During the run-up to the March on Washington, he ceded the spotlight to Randolph; this may have stemmed from the following facts:

  • he was gay
  • he had a brief association with leftist labor groups.

5. Ruby Bridges was the first student to integrate the New Orleans public school system. She compared the events surrounding her first day of school to a Mardi Gras celebration. John Steinbeck captured her experience that day in Travels with Charley, inspiring Norman Rockwell’s iconic painting The Problem We All Live With.

6. Many whites in positions of authority opposed the American civil rights movement, including:

  • Lester Maddox, who refused to serve black patrons at his family-run restaurant
  • Jim Clark, who marched a crowd of demonstrators to jail with the aid of cattle prods
  • James Eastland, who doubted the accounts of the disappearance of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in the summer of 1964.

7. In contrast, many whites in positions of authority supported the American civil rights movement in the South, including:

  • William Hartsfield, who helped integrate the Atlanta police force
  • Robert Woodruff, who threatened to move the Coca-Cola headquarters from Atlanta if local white business leaders boycotted a dinner in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. after he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964
  • Ivan Allen, Jr., who helped cover the expenses for King’s funeral in 1968.

The museum included a special exhibit of some of Dr. King’s papers, including a formal invitation to the celebration of Ghana’s independence from Great Britain. Another exhibit included Dr. King’s death certificate, which contained several nuggets of information. Several exhibits highlighted ongoing struggles around the world concerning the rights of women, LGBT individuals, and migrant workers.

My main quibble with the museum concerns its layout. In particular, the exhibit that allows visitors to experience the harassment that protesters endured at Southern lunch counters attracted a plethora of patrons, hampering my ability to navigate the surrounding exhibits.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum, and I would recommend it to those who happen to visit Atlanta.

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