Atlanta is now the home of a new major attraction that embodies the living history of the civil rights movement. The National Center for Civil and Human Rights opened Monday in downtown Atlanta, after almost a decade of planning.
The gleaming 42,000 square-foot museum has permanent exhibits about the civil rights movement, including the personal papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. It will also have rotating exhibits about ongoing struggles worldwide.
One of those exhibits focuses on the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, where four young girls were killed.
Barbara Cross’ father was the pastor of the church. She says the pain hasn’t gone away, even though the bombing happened more than 50 years ago.
“It was devastating to children who thought they were in a place of safety, and to know that your friends were dead,” said Cross. “It took away a lot of the innocence. It robbed us of our friends, and parents who lost dear ones. So people were afraid to go back into the church after they rebuilt.” Katrina Robertson Reed lost a cousin in the bombing. Reed says when she was growing up in Alabama, she lived on an integrated block. She says that, in some ways, it seems like things are more segregated today. “You can go for ever and ever and never see an integrated block you know here in Atlanta, other cities. Church is still the most segregated place on Sunday morning. So I think in those ways there are still so many things yet that need to be done.” The emotional reaction from the bombing provided momentum for the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. A June 19 preview day of the center featured the Freedom Riders, civil rights activists who rode buses into the segregated South in 1961. Julia Humbles was one of those activists. Decades later, she still considers herself a Freedom Rider. “I think we’ve come a long way,” she told GPB’s On the Story. “But we still have a long way to go. Point being, the fact that we’re still fighting over voters rights, we’re still dealing with discrimination of women.” Humbles plans to join all Americans on July 2nd in marking the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act, a milestone that is also commemorated at the center. Humbles says she has witnessed striking changes all around her since the act passed. “When I looked at a person’s face and saw them looking at me, the hate that came through, that they were holding their babies in their arms and the babies could hear them saying ‘Kill those n---s!’ That kind of thing, not only did it resonate with me then, it resonates with me even now, because that look is the look that you can never forget,” said Humbles. “For somebody to look at you and be able to do that. Now, I think that we changed many, many hearts and many, many minds and that was what it was all about.”