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Business embraces newest attraction – Center for Civil and Human Rights

Center for Civil and Human Rights will boost conventions and tourism, serve as a forum for issues such as diversity, human trafficking and oppression

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on June 13, 2014

As the new Center for Civil and Human Rights prepares for its unveiling on June 23, it already is being woven into the business fabric of Atlanta.

Not only have businesses and foundations emerged as strong backers of the $80 million destination, they also are exploring ways to leverage the Center for their own corporate purposes — from diversity training to human rights sensitivity.

Plus top economic development entities in Atlanta and the state are recognizing the tourism, convention and marketing benefits that are headed to town with the opening of the Center.

“Civil rights and human rights have always been inextricably linked to Atlanta and Georgia, and having a location now where we can anchor that part of our history will be a valuable addition to our state,” said Kevin Langston, deputy commissioner of the tourism division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

Langston said the state has been including the Center on international sales calls with tour operators, who are excited about having another attraction to offer visitors to Atlanta.

“We have brought a number of groups down to see it,” Langston said. “Folks are really excited about it. This will be a great addition.”

Building a Center for Civil and Human Rights always had been viewed as a way to bolster Atlanta’s attractiveness as place for conventions and tourism.

But the Center also has had a higher calling — to provide a safe place to discuss and try to resolve some of the most sensitive issues in the world today — whether it be human rights violations in Syria, the degradation of women and girls when it comes to human trafficking or the issues of oppression in certain countries.

“The Atlanta business community still maintains a very strong level of civic engagement, and Atlanta is still identified with issues of civil and human rights,” said Doug Shipman, president and CEO of the Center for Civil and Human Rights.

“We have a lot of multinational companies based in Atlanta or doing business in Atlanta. They grapple with issues of diversity, human rights, gender and labor,” Shipman said. “I think the Center is a way for those companies to express their values and also explore how they should function in the world. What the Center can do is help them explore how to deal with those issues.”

Several companies already have taken advantage of the Center’s expertise.

“The Center for Civil and Human Rights is more than bricks, mortar and exhibits,” said Ken Cornelius, president of the Siemens Center of Competence for Cities. “The Center’s experienced staff provides guidance, best practices and leadership to companies focused on promoting the power of diversity. We are proud of our partnership and encourage the corporate community to engage with Doug Shipman and his team.”

Ed Potter, director of Global Workplace Rights for The Coca-Cola Co., said that the company has hosted annual conferences to address issues related to human rights for the past six years.

“It is a privilege to host our seventh conference at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights this September,” Potter wrote in an email. “The annual conferences have engaged the business community on topics such as forced labor, child labor and business and human rights. By hosting the conference at the National Center, we are able to weave civil and human rights into the fabric of the business community in Atlanta, the United States and around the world.”

The conferences are sponsored by the U.S. Council for Conference International Business, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the International Organization of Employers, and participants will include business leaders from inside and outside the country.

Shipman said the Center has taken this a step further with the staff facilitating discussions in Atlanta and outside the state. It also is developing a speakers’ bureau with various areas of expertise to deepen the engagement of the Center in the community.

“We want to create the right environment by which we explore these issues,” Shipman said. “It is not something that we built in as a huge revenue source in our business plan. Organizations and businesses have come to us. We see this as a way we can make a difference. It may become a real relevant part of our work going forward.”

The Center also is playing an important role in attracting major events and meetings to Atlanta. The International Women’s Forum will meet at the Center later in the fall. Then in 2015, there will be the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Summit and the American Alliance of Museums.

William Pate, president of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the Center for Civil and Human Rights should translate into new business for Atlanta.

International visitors are especially likely to be drawn to the Center, Pate said.

“Already the King Center is the No. 1 destination that international visitors want to see,” Pate said, adding that Atlanta can put together a “really nice travel package” that includes the new attraction with the King Center and the Carter Library.

Between 20 percent and 35 percent of the attendees to the city’s largest conventions are international, and Pate said the ACVB has an opportunity to specifically target those attendees to come to the Center.

Other areas that the Center is expected to draw more business with is religious gatherings, family reunions and nonprofits that have an interest in issues related to civil and human rights.

“It’s an important opportunity for the city,” Pate said. “It is another fabulous addition to our portfolio, and it is so close to Atlanta’s history. We are going to book more business because of it. We are the No. 1 destination for African-Americans for tourism as well as the convention business.”

Shipman also believes the Center will serve as a gateway or jumping-off point for visitors to learn more about other significant sites, museums, destinations and academic institutions throughout Atlanta and Georgia with their own civil and human rights displays and resources.

Ernest Greer, the 2014 chair of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and managing shareholder of Greenberg Traurig LLP in Atlanta, said the Center reinforces the story of Georgia’s leaders willingness “to do the right thing” when it came to civil and human rights; and it is a reason the state has grown and prospered.

The new Center is an important way “to solidify Atlanta and this state as a leading voice on the issues of civil and human rights,” Greer said. “I have been proud to see the business community, local, national and international, embrace this new endeavor and believe it sends a strong signal that our city and state is a place where all are welcome and where new ideas can take flight. That perception is critical as we work to maintain our status as the most globally competitive state in the nation.”

As chair of the Center’s board, former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin is especially proud that business and civic leaders came together to build the new destination – paying homage to Atlanta’s city fathers who believed back in 1895 that it would be the crown jewel of the new South.

Atlanta continued to play its unique role of racial tolerance in the South during the Civil Rights Movement, a theme that will be incorporated in the Center’s exhibits.

But Franklin said the Center’s greatest contribution will be how it contributes to Atlanta’s future.

“The Center seeks to be one of the places in the United States and the world where human rights issues can be discussed and understood by everyday people, leaders – young and old,” she said. “Many Atlanta-based businesses, like many U.S.-based businesses, operate globally and therefore, must think and act considering many cultures and traditions.

“The Center should be a safe place to discuss what is sometimes uncomfortable topics,” Franklin said. “The Center’s board and leadership have worked hard to provide a unique place that celebrates Atlanta’s history and uses it to expand the discussion and understanding of human rights.”


More than 400,000 Annual visitors (projected)

$50 million Estimated annual economic impact

700 Construction jobs

32 Full-time employees

300 Volunteers

Source: Center for Civil and Human Rights.

“Civil rights and human rights have always been inextricably linked to Atlanta and Georgia, and having a location now where we can anchor that part of our history will be a valuable addition to our state.”  –  Kevin LangstonGeorgia Department of Economic Development



Phil Freelon, owner of the Freelon Group, Building Design Architect


George C. Wolfe, Jill Savitt, The Rockwell Group


Gude Management Group and Cousins Properties
Russell Moody Holder


* The Center features a continuously rotating exhibition of items from the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Collection, where visitors can view the personal papers and items of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

* Rolls Down Like Water: The American Civil Rights Movement Exhibition presents the modern American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

* Spark of Conviction: The Global Human Rights Movement Exhibition enables visitors to make connections to the world of human rights.

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.


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