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Hosea Williams was standing below the Memphis motel balcony when he saw his friend and mentor, Martin Luther King Jr., assassinated. Williams, a pugnacious lieutenant in the civil rights movement, the bad cop to Andrew Young’s good cop, wondered “whether America lost its last chance.”
One million tourists visit the King historic district every year—it’s one of Atlanta’s top draws. The busiest month is January, loaded with events celebrating the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Visitors are often baffled to find that two entities operate here.
As its name suggests, the Center for Civil and Human Rights, which opens to the public on Monday, is about two struggles—the American one that was fought primarily in the South in the latter half of the twentieth century, and the worldwide one that involves oppressed peoples in distant (and not-so-distant) lands. While there’s an obvious thematic linkage between the American Civil Rights Movement and the broader human rights one, the line between them must have been a challenge for the Center’s designers to straddle. One has a built-in narrative, with a beginning and middle (if not yet an ending), and the other requires navigating the vast space beneath the human rights umbrella, whether it’s oppressed women in Africa, child laborers in Pakistan, or tortured activists in Burma.
Bernice King was only an infant when her father delivered his famous “Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, but she can recite its lines with authority. And so, welcoming civic leaders invited to the Carter Center for a discussion on education and civil rights, she said she would like to focus on the portion of the speech about the “red hills of Georgia.”
On April 9, 1968, while 110 cities were still shaken by the violence and rioting that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Atlanta hosted a daylong series of funeral events honoring the slain civil rights leader. Seen by more than 120 million on live television and attended by more than 150,000, it was the largest funeral ever staged for a private citizen.
On the forty-fourth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, a service was held in the sanctuary of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the historic congregation where King, his father, and his grandfather all served as pastors. On this warm April evening in 2012, a fourth generation was represented by Bernice King, daughter of the civil rights leader, who took over as CEO of the King Center this January.