On previous visits to Atlanta I didn’t have a lot of time to really see any sights (just Piedmont Park). This trip I again worked up a long list of sights that would be interesting. I was more optimistic I could see more things this time since I was there for five days and four nights. A few seemed doable since my last day I didn’t have work meetings before I flew out, plus a few of the museums or sights were open in the evenings. Of course once I was actually in Atlanta and when I was tired from a day of meetings (and still had work to do at my hotel), I really wasn’t in the mood for rushing to see something in the evening before it closed.
I did check out Centennial Park one night before dinner, where there was a concert going on, so it was quite full of people and energy. I then focused on picking my top choices of what I wanted to see Friday morning. I settled on a plan to check out my top choice, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, and then take advantage of the Georgia Aquarium opening an hour earlier to see that first. Both are in Centennial Park along with the Coca-Cola Museum (which was on the original list, but I chose not to prioritize since I don’t drink a lot of soda).
After a stop at the Waffle House (I could easily eat really crispy hash browns- NOT home fries- every day), I walked over to Centennial Park. Unfortunately I didn’t plan ahead with the Georgia Aquarium (partially since I made my decisions about what to visit somewhat last minute) and the tickets for the earliest time slots were already sold out… The extra hour from the Aquarium being open early was the only way I could swing two museums before my flight, so I waited an hour and visited just the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. I think this turned out for the best, as I didn’t feel rushed exploring my top choice before trying to make my flight.
Being in Martin Luther King Jr.’s hometown, I was excited to check the Center out. While there are a number of galleries and spaces on the American Civil Rights Movement, there is also a wide range of exhibits on civil and human rights movements and abuses from around the world. The Center is full of printed information, but also is awash in visual representations and a lot of interactive activities. Here are some highlights I wanted to share:
- By far the most memorable and impactful part of the Center for me was the lunch counter. You sit at a recreation of a 1960’s lunch counter with headphones on and your eyes closed. You then hear recordings of reenactments of whites yelling at the activists protesting with the lunch counter sit ins. The language, rhetoric, and intensity of what you hear is quite strong, to say the least. Combined with your chair moving and vibrating to simulate kicks to the chair from the white abusers, it’s a poignant experience.
- A great example of the many interactive options at the Center are displays that provided detailed stories on different individuals experiencing different civil and human rights abuses. You choose the story by taking a “book” off the shelf and placing it on the screen. This then populates several pages of the story (with pictures) that you can read through. They are organized by a series of themes, such as education and Razia’s story of attending school in Afghanistan.
- Another informative display was one with physical representations of different products (such as flowers) and then sharing the human rights abuses and violations that are involved in the product being available to consumers like us.
- The exhibits and experiences related to the American Civil Rights Movement were quite numerous. There was a display where you selected different states in the South and specific examples of Jim Crow laws were shown. There were art pieces with pictures of civil right activists (many of whom probably saw themselves as regular citizens just advocating for themselves or standing up for others) and when your turned their pictures around you were told the story of their murder. Another powerful experience was Martin Luther King’s entire “I Have A Dream” speech displayed on a gigantic wide screen. I sometimes think that people (including myself) see the main “clips” and quotes from his speech, but don’t often remind themselves of the entire speech. Visually it was also powerful to see it so largely displayed and shots of the crowd before, during, and after the speech. Just a few examples of what there is to learn and experience about the American Civil Rights Movement at the Center (and in general).
Civil and human rights are critically important for all of us to understand, both what has happened in the past and what is currently happening (and advocate and fight against what is occurring now). The Center for Civil and Human Rights does an excellent job of blending the past with the present (and with references to the future) in a very visually-stimulating and interactive way. There are some powerful experiences (such as the lunch counter) to remind us of what has happened and then how far we still need to go. Atlanta is full of sights and luckily a lot of them are right next to each out in Centennial Park. Highly recommend visitors and locals (as the Center is relatively new) make a visit to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. More explanations on exhibits in the captions below (plus some shots from my visit in Atlanta).
National Center for Civil and Human Rights- 100 Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard, Atlanta, GA 30313