“We believe we’re just starting,” said former Mayor of Atlanta Shirley Franklin. “Some people think it’s an end because the building is open. Some people think it’s an end because exhibits are installed. We, the board of directors, we, the people who love freedom, understand that this is just a step along the way.”
The Atlanta-based companies and organizations dedicated to human and civil rights, as well as the city’s importance in the civil right movement made it an ideal location for the center, said Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.
“It is so fitting and so appropriate that this beautiful and important center would make its home in downtown Atlanta -- the capital of the new South,” he said.
Less than half the size of the neighboring World of Coke, the center includes three floors of galleries focused on current and past issues and the efforts regarding human and civil rights -- those rights that come from government and those shared by all humanity. Topics covered in the museum will change to echo what is going on in the world, said the center’s CEO Doug Shipman.
“They (activists) kept working long beyond the 1950s and `60s, and we will honor their stories every day in this center,” he said. “The center also reflects the way in which we today are shaping what is happening around the world.”
The first floor houses display cases of Martin Luther King Jr.’s personal items, including schoolwork, handwritten notes and sermons. A temporary exhibit space also showcases selections from the John Lewis Series Paintings by Benny Andrews.
Visitors then encounter the second floor displays on the American civil rights movement, moving through its history and main actors and into a gallery about human rights and the movement’s main “offenders” and “defenders” on the third floor.
The second and third floor include interactive displays, including recorded statements from Freedom Riders, old television broadcasts and touch-screen stations providing information on local and global efforts and activists. Photos, posters and personal stories are also mounted on the walls.
Some of those who provided stories or artwork for the galleries came to its opening, including prize-winning photographer Platon Antoniou. He took life-size portraits of international human-rights activists for the third floor exhibit and saw one of the subjects – Alina Diaz, an advocate for immigrants’ rights – at the opening. The pair tearfully embraced as Diaz thanked the artist for his work.
“You are such a beautiful person, and I just caught that on film,” he said to Diaz.
These personal stories included in the center allow for visitors to have an individual, emotional response to the galleries.
“You cannot walk out of this place without (being moved), being touched, being inspired or maybe shedding just a few tears,” Lewis said.
Each exhibit aims for a personal experience, Shipman said. He hopes the center allows visitors to undergo an “individual journey” both now and in the center’s future.
“We celebrate today, but the center is really about tomorrow,” he said. “Each visitor will take their experience in the center with them as they go forward in their communities.”