The museum devotes separate galleries to modern human rights issues and the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, but also demonstrates how the struggles are related. Visitors learn through interactive exhibits and stories of real people.
Permanent exhibits include a timeline about the civil rights movement and King's personal papers, but the museum also has a changing series of displays about ongoing struggles worldwide. The museum sits at one end of
The museum was established in part to connect the movement's legacy to the present day, said CEO
"I think it's important that those of us who have knowledge of the civil rights movement, that we continue to connect the dots for the next generation, that we not only share the stories of history but try to relate some of what happened in the '50s and '60s to the now," said
One particularly emotional exhibit looks at the civil rights movement's lunch-counter protests, in which black students staged sit-ins, demanding to be served food alongside whites. When visitors don headphones and place their hands on a lunch counter, they hear increasingly intense taunts and threats endured by protesters.
Another exhibit showcases the 1963 March on
"We're trying to produce the feeling, 'I wish I was there,'" Shipman said. Full audio of speeches and text panels about the march are also displayed.
Other highlights of the civil rights section include rotating exhibits of King's papers in an intimate room where "I Have a Dream" is projected on the wall in 25 different languages; mug shots of Freedom Riders shown on the exterior of a bus that doubles as a theatre showing a film about the riders; and exhibits about those who died in the struggle as well as
While the civil rights sections look back at history, the human rights gallery has a more contemporary focus. Here visitors are invited to identify with particular human rights struggles using interactive mirrors, followed by a primer on human rights. Activists selected by the advocacy group
Also featured: a who's who of human rights activists —
Another exhibit explores the ethical footprint of consumer products. It explains that workers who harvest cut flowers are sometimes exposed to dangerous pesticides; that cellphones contain minerals that are sometimes at the root of violent conflicts; and that products like cocoa and soccer balls are sometimes made by child labourers in oppressive conditions.
Shipman said the museum won't shy away from controversial topics but also is not going to pick sides.
"We want to be a place to have a very tough conversation in a civil way," he said.
The building symbolizes its theme. Curved exterior walls resemble hands coming together. The green grass roof evokes parks and squares where protests often occur. Exterior panels in neutral shades of tan and brown fit together, representing individual pieces comprising a whole. Walls of windows at each end signify openness to the outside.
NATIONAL CENTER FOR CIVIL AND HUMAN RIGHTS:
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