Arthur Blank’s foundation donates $17 million to expand Atlanta’s Civil and Human Rights CenterExterior night shot of the Center for Civil and Human Rights featuring Bank of America Plaza. (Gene Phillips, AtlantaPhotos.com)
By Maria Saporta
The National Center for Civil and Human Rights will undergo a major expansion thanks to a $17 million grant from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.
The five-year grant will include $15 million to build a new 20,000-square-foot wing to the Center’s existing footprint. The Centers new three-story West Wing will feature premier space for the papers of Martin Luther King Jr. as well as add a new gallery to engage families and children.
The remainder of the grant will go towards transforming the Center’s programming that will seeks to connect our nation’s racial history to the present, bring diverse groups together, and make progress through conversation and leadership.
“The most effective way to make progress together as a community is to shine a light on the issues that exist and to then do something about them so that everyone can feel a sense of understanding and support,” said Arthur M. Blank, chairman of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation. “We believe in the power of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights to educate, include and transform the whole of this community and this country so that together, we can create tangible, positive change.”
The new West Wing, which will be named at a later date, will include a 2,700 square-foot gallery on the lobby level to engage families and children, a 2,500 square-foot gallery to showcase the Without Sanctuary Collection of postcards of lynching and anti-lynching artifacts, gallery space for temporary and visiting exhibitions, and a 900 square-foot café.
The top floor will feature the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, which guests will experience as the culmination of their visit.
Through the Truth and Transformation project, the Center will create the broad civic architecture and processes required for conversation and reconciliation about our community’s history of racial terror, violence and injustice – and the ongoing manifestations of these challenges today. The Center will use dynamic storytelling, sector organizing, and facilitated conversations.
“Arthur Blank invested in the idea of an Atlanta-based National Center for Civil and Human Rights more than a decade ago, before we had a building, and has been a champion ever since,” said Jill Savitt, CEO of the Center. “This generous gift allows us to expand our vision – to be a national organization working to help people tap their own power to change the world and to live with purpose. We hope Arthur Blank’s leadership investment invites others to join us in promoting fairness and dignity for all.”
The capital expansion and programming will provide the opportunity to scale the work around civil and human rights, elevating the Center to a national leadership role.
The work of the Truth and Transformation project, with a national expert advisory network in formation, aspires to lead a community process on truth and reconciliation in Atlanta, which would include changing the name of the Atlanta Race Riots of 1906 to a more historically accurate name. A project partner, Georgia Civil Rights Cold Cases Project at Emory University, is researching the lives – and deaths – of the riot’s victims as a way to set the historical record straight about Atlanta’s history with race and violence. Other project partners include the Emblematic Group (for virtual reality storytelling) and Equitable Dinners (for community conversations).
With this commitment, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation has provided more than $20 million to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, including an initial $1.5 million grant for construction of the Center in 2013.
Blank, who hosted the annual NFL Owners Gala at the Center when Atlanta hosted Super Bowl 53 in 2019, has also pledged his proceeds from his recently published book – Good Company – to the Center in perpetuity.