Monday, January 18, 2010

Museums that Celebrate Civil Rights

In honor of Martin Luther King Day, the Tenement Museum would like to recognize a few of the museums and institutions that carry on Dr. King’s legacy. The issues we tackle here at the Tenement Museum -- immigration and immigrant rights -- are a core component of the contemporary civil rights movement. Immigrant reformers are looking to Dr. King for inspiration as immigration reform and legislation are debated. I highly recommend a visit to any of the following institutions to think about civil rights in America.

The National Civil Rights Museum
Memphis, Tennessee

Chronicles the struggle for civil rights from 1619 through the present. The Museum is housed in the former Lorraine Motel, the site of Martin Luther King’s assassination on April 4, 1968. Dr. King’s hotel room is on display and visitors stand just feet from the balcony where he was shot.

Civil Rights Memorial Center
Montgomery, Alabama

The Memorial Center, located at the Southern Poverty Law Center, honors those who lost their lives during the Civil Rights Movement. It includes a section on contemporary civil rights issues as well as a “Wall of Tolerance.” Visitors who add their names to the wall are promising to take a stand against injustice.

The National Voting Rights Museum and Institute
Selma, Alabama

This community museum is steps from the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The Museum features the powerful “I Was There” wall that invites Selma-to-Montgomery marchers and witnesses to share their stories. Many of the staff were involved in the Civil Rights Movement and offer their powerful first-hand accounts.

If you’re in the NYC area, plan to visit the Bronx Museum of the Arts between March 28 – July 11, 2010 to view “Road to Freedom: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement, 1956 – 1968.” This striking photography exhibit contains 150 vintage photographs and documents the key figures and events of the Movement. I was lucky enough to see it at the High Museum of Art when it opened in 2008, and it’s not to be missed.

- posted by Pamela Mattera


  1. Pamela, don't forget the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. It's located in a beautiful building in downtown Birmingham, AL, across the street from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. It's well worth a visit.

  2. Thanks for yor comment, Jonathan.

    The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is definitely worth a visit. I really like how they connect the Civil Rights Movement to subsequent social movements such as the Polish Solidarity movement of the 1980s.

    The BCRI also poses important contemporary questions about civil rights issues surrounding immigration and gay marriage and I hope that these topics become more prominent over time. It's location across from the Sixteenth Street Church and a park with sculptures of Dr. King and of the dogs and hoses police used during the 1960s only adds to the power of the stories represented in the BCRI.

    There are many important sites that carry on Dr. King's legacy and the struggle for civil rights(I highly recommend a road trip through Alabama!) Please continue to share the ones that resonate with you.



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