Almost a decade ago, the Center for Civil and Human Rights was conceived to underscore the relevance of the midcentury American civil rights movement to contemporary political and humanitarian struggles. Commendably, the organizers stuck with that vision. It would have been so much easier—especially in a city that loves to gloss over unpleasantness—to celebrate past victories and Atlanta’s vaunted role in that chapter of U.S. history, wrapping everything up with a neat self-congratulatory bow and talk of strides made, rather than steps that remain. But the $65 million facility, which opened in June, emphasizes ongoing global struggles and unresolved issues at home.
Two major exhibition areas meet in a central atrium, showing how the past and present intersect. One takes visitors on an emotionally harrowing walk through Jim Crow segregation, lunch counter demonstrations, the March on Washington, the Birmingham bombing, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and the stories of the movement’s less famous foot soldiers. The other gallery provides an overview of global tyranny and oppression, including historic figures like Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot, along with a real-time map of levels of global freedom (and lack of it).
Walking through the historic displays, you hear the refrain of “We shall overcome.” When you reach the modern exhibition, you realize the importance of the final words of that song: “some day.”