Day 2 begins bright & early with some breakfast at the hotel. Then we hop on the bus and head towards Atlanta. Our destination here was the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.
When we reached Atlanta we had some time to grab lunch and explore. Michaela and I visited the Georgia Aquarium and got to see some Beluga Whales, Whale Sharks, Puffins & Penguins & fish of all shapes and sizes.
At the NCC&HR we traced the history of the movement, the methods, and the participants. My favorite exhibit was the wall that was shaped like a bus – made up entirely of the mug shots of Freedom Riders. This exhibit also allowed us to listen to the experiences of some of the participants.
As you walk through the museum you first walk I to a section with white on one side and colored on the other. You see pictures of both divided groups going about their daily lives. As you move forward you encounter the white politicians of the south, some on the wall and some on TVs. You can change the channel to hear various segregationists perspectives for why they will continue to enforce segregation or perhaps why it is natural, needed in fact – in their opinion.
Following this is a much more uplifting exhibit where you see video footage of the March on Washington and hear the speeches of the forceful actors – Rustin, King, Bates, Lewis and many others. Songs that uplifted and drew the marchers together. We were also able to listen to longer parts of the speeches if we desired.
The next exhibit was heart rending. Here the four little lives lost at the 16th St Baptist Church bombing were commemorated. Beneath their stained glass memorials we read of how they died nobly, as part of something much larger than themselves. How their deaths speak and continue even in 2023 to speak to the wrongs of our nation, as what do we have to celebrate – to be proud of if we allow the children of our nation to be killed for mindless, ignorant hatred?
Another heart breaking exhibit that followed depicted the moments leading up to Martin Luther King Jr’s death. As you stand on the stairs you hear him speaking – that he tried to love and wanted to help someone – to leave a good life behind. You hear Robert F Kennedy & Walter Cronkite announcing his death. The reality confronts you from all sides.
When you reach the next floor you see images of martyrs of the Civil Rights Movement. You’re able to turn the person’s image and see the circumstances of their death. While harrowing, this exhibit also shows how men and women of various ethnicities and belief systems all believed this to be a cause worth of a fight, even if to the death.
The lowest floor contains a collection of Martin Luther King Jr’s papers. Here we saw drafts of plans for the March on Washington & letters he received from various participants or attendees. We also got to see some of the books King was reading our read already read – including The Raven & a Pearl S Buck novel. One or our travelers, Jackie, elaborated on her reaction to the library – stating that King was building his knowledge on global views by reading so many diverse topics, on different belief systems. King studied many methods and experiences to build his actions and reactions to events in his life time.
Our Mr. Samuel Black discussed how this museum compared to what we saw in Greensboro. The scale of history covered is one major difference as the NCC&HR includes present threats to civil & human rights. In Greensboro however we had a human connection with out amazing tour guides. In Atlanta we had to observe, listen, and interact but it lacked the human connection via story telling. As we visit museums it is important to consider if they want to present a local or international history and what stories they might be telling and why.
Both museums are incredibly well done. At times the information can be overwhelming and cause us to pause & just feel the weight of the event or the person. The power of the exhibit and the storytelling was definitely felt by all.
To close out our day we enjoyed some traditional southern favorites, strong sweet tea, and peach cobbler at Mary Mac’s Tea Room. Our dinner guests included a Civil Rights activists, Mr. Charles Persons, who participated as a Freedom Rider. Mr. Persons shared his experience being beaten and having difficulty escaping Birmingham after the violence they encountered. He also described how it felt to hear that the other bus with Freedom Riders had been set on fire and not immediately knowing the status of their fellow activists. His experience was invaluable and we’re thankful he could talk with us!