This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia. This was a powerful experience because it allowed the Civil Rights movement to come to life in front of my eyes. I thought I had a good understanding of this movement until I walked through this museum. My time at the Center for Civil and Human Rights made it feel so real. There is such a big difference between reading and watching history on a screen or from a book and actually experiencing it. I am still in shock from the impact that this experience had on my understanding of the Civil Rights Movement. I left the museum Saturday afternoon with a new respect for all of those who fought for equal rights during this time, and for a new attitude towards American History. There is so much more to the movement than they teach us in
One of the very first things I saw when I entered the Civil Rights exhibit was actually one of the most powerful to me. This was a section about the segregationists–those who were in full support of segregation and that fought hard against the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement. While hard to read and see, I really appreciated the presence of this in the exhibit because instead of only highlighting the heroes and forgetting those that used their power to deliberately work against equality is very important to the history. So much of history erases the bad and only focuses on the good, but when we do this, the severity of the situation seems to be washed over. I am so glad that the museum was not afraid to show just how bad these men were. In the exhibit, there were old televisions stacked up playing various videos of segregationists making speeches and announcements about why segregation should be accepted and why they should continue their disgusting behavior. Seeing just how serious these men were about their cause, and how many spectators were listening and agreeing, was painful. I could not believe anyone could agree with such ridiculous logic and cruel treatment of fellow human beings. George Wallace, a well-known segregationist, is shown making a speech about maintaining his power in the south and keeping the white people as superior beings. Seeing an actual recording of this man publicly making these claims and people supporting him made it so real. I saw just how serious the divide was, and that really set the tone for the rest of my time in the museum.
So much of the history we hear about simply washes over the bad and the ugly so we can focus on the heroes of the times, but without the bad and the ugly, we wouldn’t have heroes. I think it is important to not pretend like these people were not as terrible as they really were. We need to look at all sides and learn from them.
Another artifact from the museum that really stuck with me was the Freedom Riders Bus. This was a giant bus covered in images of those who participated in the Freedom Rides. This was particularly impactful for me because I had just watched a documentary on this revolutionary movement, and seeing all of the faces of those involved truly brought it to life. Something about putting faces to the stories we hear from history makes it so much more real.
It was mesmerizing to see just how many people were involved in this movement and experienced horrible treatment along the way. Every single person that took part in the Freedom Rides knew what they were signing up for and the dangers associated with such a bold protest. They risked everything to fight for a better America, and every single one of their names and faces should be known and learned about in our history.
Overall, my experience at the Center for Civil and Human Rights was eye-opening and allowed me to get a better sense of the realities of this period in American History. So much of what we are taught in school glazes over the darker parts of these times, but this museum allowed me to see it as it was, and learn so much more about the Civil Rights Movement.