Atlanta’s architecturally stunning $103 million National Center for Civil & Human Rights opened Monday in Downtown at Pemberton Place, near Centennial Olympic Park.
Its goal: to let people “explore the fundamental rights of all human beings so that they leave inspired and empowered to join the ongoing dialogue about human rights in their communities”.
According to the center’s website,
“The National Center for Civil and Human Rights is an engaging cultural attraction that connects the American Civil Rights Movement to today’s Global Human Rights Movements. Our purpose is to create a safe space for visitors to explore the fundamental rights of all human beings so that they leave inspired and empowered to join the ongoing dialogue about human rights in their communities.”
Filled with a cacophony of images and sounds, the Center includes an interactive exhibit about the “lunch counter sit-ins”, portraying the taunting and kicking protesters endured. Hard-hitting, interactive exhibits, authentic footage depicting civil rights protests, and selections from the $23 million collection of personal papers from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are among the many highlights.
The Center is the result of a decade of efforts to build a Civil Rights museum in Atlanta, when former Atlanta mayor and United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young and civil rights activist Evelyn Lowery approached then-Mayor Shirley Franklin with the idea.
An international design competition singled out Phil Freelon as The Center’s design architect. The winning design was then developed with the goal of creating a physical representation of The Center’s vision and a world-class destination for Atlanta. Freelon conceived of the curved walls as the joining of hands. Different shades of roof tiles portray combining all skin colors of the world. This powerful gesture also alludes to the idea that people from all walks of life can work together toward a common goal. HOK was the Building Architect of Record.
The Center’s exhibition designer is Rockwell Group and has created dynamic immersive spaces using an array of audiovisual media, interactives, photography and graphics. They have taken the curatorial narrative and given it a thoughtful and exciting three-dimensional presence.
The city was already home to memorials and historic sites honoring Atlanta native Martin Luther King, Jr., but they intended this space to go beyond the King legacy, or even civil rights history. Voting rights marches and church bombings of the 1960s were tied to modern, global issues like slavery and immigrant rights.
Soon, one will be able to take the soon-to-open Atlanta Streetcar from the National Center for Civil & Human Rights to the Martin Luther King Center and National Historic District which includes King’s home and historic churches.