“My friends, find your voice.”
My head was spinning just moments into my tour of the Center for Civil and Human Rights, the newest jewel in downtown Atlanta’s crown of attractions and in its history as a mecca of the struggle for equality.
So much comes at you, right from the start. TV news images of racists like former Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox saying the most hateful, ignorant, awful statements, the noise from several of the broadcasts competing in a cacophony of hate … Bull Connor’s office door… a bus covered in photos of Freedom Riders… a replica of a lunch counter that lets you hear and feel a sample of what it might’ve been like… those infamous film clips of hoses being turned on citizens… On and on…
Then the March on Washington and I Have a Dream, in a big room of white… followed by the Four Little Girls, LBJ, and then Martin Luther King’s assassination…
It’s so much that by the time I reached the end, when images were flashing on giant panels depicting civil rights struggles by women, gays, religious minorities and others, I heard a recorded voice say, “My friends, find your voice,” and something clicked.
The fight for what’s right is much bigger and scarier and out-of-control than that, of course. But learning to stand up for yourself and others like you, to use words to form community and share principles, hope and decency… well, it’s hard to imagine any kind of civil rights movement without the voices. All of them and each of them, from King’s magnificence to Rosa Parks’s quietude, from James Brown singing and dancing after King’s murder to the wails of sadness at the funerals, to LBJ’s White House leadership and the Nobel committee’s recognition of King. At the museum, King’s frighteningly powerful speech foreshadowing his death induces chills and gasps still.
Find your voice, indeed.
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The Center for Civil and Human Rights, 100 Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd., Atlanta, GA, 30313. (678) 999-8990. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days.
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