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We’ll find out if the new Center for Civil and Human Rights can make everybody happy

It’s never easy to make everybody happy, a fact that the Center for Civil and Human Rights may face as its plans come out of the ground.

Just about everyone has an opinion on what should be the focus or purpose of the new center, and it might be hard for one place to encapsulate all the various desires.
That challenge was clear this morning when the architectural team for the center was announced at today’s annual meeting of Central Atlanta Progress.

For the record, the winning team was the Freelon Group, which is based in the Research Triangle in North Carolina, and HOK-Atlanta.

At the press conference after the breakfast, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin credited former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young for urging her to champion the development of a destination that would let the world know the city’s special role in the Civil Rights movement and in global human rights.

Young, one of the stalwarts of the Civil Rights movement who worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr., raised a couple of concerns about the new center.

First, he believes that the center should expose the first Civil Rights movement that took place between 1865 and 1890, a chapter of history that few people have been taught.

But Young’s greatest concern was whether the center would address the whole issue of slavery.

“I don’t think we can deal with this Civil Rights movement in isolation. I think somebody has got to find a way to deal with slavery,” said Young, who added that we have yet to heal the wounds of bringing 4.5 million slaves to the United States to help develop the country.

“This city is a living witness to the fact that we don’t have to worry about the horrors of slavery,” Young said. “We can talk about it in a historical, contextural way and have people take slavery out of the closet and admit that these 4.5 million slaves made the difference of prosperity in the United States.”

In one of the funnier moments, Young said that we should not consider the center as a museum. “I don’t like museums,” he said. But he believes the center can become an education experience for those who visit.

“Somewhere we need to tell the whole story, and everyone in the world needs to come to hear this story that’s not being told,” Young said. “It’s the history of humanity, overcoming poverty, ignorance and racism. And it’s about making money. This was a city too busy to hate because it was a city that wanted to make money.”

Doug Shipman, executive director of the Center for Civil and Human Rights, told me after the press conference that issues, such as slavery, would be put in an historical context. But he did say there probably will not be a separate exhibit room devoted to slavery.

As envisioned, the center would concentrate on on the movements of civil and human rights from the beginning of the last century and carry those stories to the present.

As I said, it will be hard to make everybody happy.

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.


1 Comment

  1. Julie March 27, 2009 12:14 pm

    I think Maria is doing a great job of reporting all the metro Atlanta news that’s fit to “go virtual”! Regarding the new Center for Civil and Human Rights, this is such a great opportunity to showcase something really “spiritual” about our city. And, that is, we have always had visionaries who sought to see the possibilities and the best in the human spirit. That’s why I think the Atlanta area is the perfect location for this Center and the design, unveiled yesterday, is so embracing and symbolic of the spirit that has moved Atlanta forward all these years. As Goethe once said: “If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat them as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.” We can be that example (of elevating the human spirit) to the world through our wonderful, new center.Report


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