A Civil Rights Tour of AmericaBreaking News
tags: museums, civil rights, historic preservation, travel, African American history, public history
Until the last few decades, history museums in the South generally focused on one thing: the Civil War, and primarily how it impacted white people. We’re 20 years into the 21st century and America still refuses to fully grapple with its deplorable racial history; in fact overt racism and hate crimes have risen sharply over the last several years, and a movement to ban “Critical Race Theory” is trying to cut off any examination of America’s racist past in our public schools. It’s absolutely crucial that we remember the worst things our ancestors did so that we don’t repeat them in the future, and we’re barely talking “ancestors” here: if you’re a Southerner in your teens or older, you had a parent or grandparent who was alive during the civil unrest of the 1960s. The Civil War might have been 160 years ago, but the civil rights movement is in our very recent past, and Black Americans are still fighting for their rights today, as legislators throughout the country try to make it harder for them to vote.
The struggle persists, but at least much has changed about how we study and teach our past. Fortunately there’s been a concerted effort the last few decades to commemorate the civil rights movement for what it was and what it remains to be. Museums and monuments have been built throughout the South to tell the story of those who faced violence and oppression for their most basic rights, and they continue to flourish even as Confederate statues topple throughout the nation. History might be under fire in public schools, but our public history is better rounded and more comprehensive today than it was just 30 years ago.
The best time to learn about our past is always right now, so let’s look at some of the institutions and monuments that are helping to tell that story to the public today, starting with the home of Martin Luther King Jr.
Atlanta has never been big on preserving its history. That might be one reason the National Register of Historic Places moved relatively quickly after King’s assassination to create the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic District, which is now known as the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park. Added to the register in 1974, the district includes the Atlanta neighborhood that King grew up in, with Ebenezer Baptist Church, King’s birth home, and his final resting place all found within its boundaries. It’s also home to the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, a non-profit devoted to spreading King’s philosophies throughout the world.
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