SLS Hosts In-Person Tour at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights

April 26, 2021

This spring, SLS had the opportunity to host an in-person tour at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, led by staff member Jamie White-Jones.  As part of the experience, we asked students to share with us what was most impactful to them personally.  We are pleased to share those reflections with you!

Iesha Baldwin (Spelman College '19, Environmental Studies)

My favorite part of the tour was when Jamie, our tour guide, told us the story of her great uncle, Mr.Williams. Mr.Williams was one of Martin Luther King's close friends and personal bodyguard. This was the most memorable part of the tour for me because it allowed me to feel more connected to the events of the past. Jamie's shared stories grew my appreciation for history and showed me that history is alive today. 

Amy Wood (PhD, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering)

The most impactful exhibit for me was the lunch counter audio-sensory simulation. In less than two minutes, this exhibit helps museum visitors gain insight into how it felt to be one of the African American students who were refused service in a segregated restaurant. The four students sat down at the “whites only” lunch counter in 1960 and were denied service. During the sit-in, they were both verbally and physically harassed because of their race. Sitting at the counter, museum visitors close their eyes and hear the racist slurs yelled at the four students while feeling the seats and counter simulate the physical harassment they experienced. This simulation was truly upsetting, and I have never experienced an interactive exhibit like this before. This upsetting simulation was only less than two minutes, so I can only begin to imagine how the four students must have felt, and how countless other African Americans during segregation felt. I would highly recommend this exhibit to anyone visiting the museum because sitting at the lunch counter allows one to begin to comprehend the magnitude of racial injustices committed just a couple generations ago, and further emphasizes the importance in continuing to work towards achieving racial equality today.

Shikha Safaya (PhD, Operations Management, Scheller College of Business)

The National Center for Civil and Human Rights is very thoughtful in its layout for showing you both the dark and bright sides of the history of civil and human rights movement in USA and around the world. I experienced a range of emotions while taking the tour: from anger and sadness to hope and happiness. There were many exhibits that touched my heart: the unique interactive experience of reliving those times at the lunch table and the photograph of a black woman walking to college being bullied by her peers. The exhibit that really moved me was the video of the March on Washington that took place in 1963. It was demonstrative of the collective power of people getting together to fight for a cause. I was amused by how organized the whole protest was given its sheer scale. Watching the people walking peacefully, singing songs filled my heart up with joy and hope. I couldn’t help but draw parallels to the Black Lives Matter movement last year that I witnessed firsthand. I am deeply respectful and inspired looking at the resilience of the Black community to fight back despite all odds to break the stereotypes and barriers of injustice.

Aryanna Rogers (Biomedical Engineering)

The exhibit that I found the most compelling was the sit-in section where we got to sit at a counter, as if we were in a diner, and experience a little bit of what it would have been like to be harassed, mocked, and ridiculed for doing nothing more than trying to get a cup of coffee while black. We hear about the horrors of racism all the time but can never truly imagine the pain that those victims experienced. Putting the headphones on and being shouted at for a little over a minute while the stools were “kicked” and the table in front of you is slapped at makes everything seem surreal and you can finally put yourself in another person’s shoes, even if only for a moment. Even more powerful is knowing that in real life things were much worse. The simulation in the museum cannot curse at you and physically harm you, but that certainly was not the case for those actually going through the scenario. It is definitely an experience that everyone should have in order to put things into perspective.

Jazmin Lucio (Environmental Engineering)

My favorite exhibit from the National Center for Civil and Human Rights was the “Lunch Counter Simulated Sit-In.” In the 1960s, brave college students sat at white-only lunch counters for nonviolent sit-ins. Three of us at a time sat down in these fake bar stools, placed our hands in front of us, put in some headphones, and covered our eyes to experience a short simulation of what these non-violent protestors had to endure. We could hear violent demands for bloodshed, hateful comments, and racial slurs while feeling the bar stool shake as the aggression increased. This exhibit was my favorite because it put us all into the shoes of the protestors - it took us away from viewing the museum as “history” and instead solidified it as a reality.

Almi Mansaray (Environmental Engineering)

My most memorable exhibit was the MLK-focused exhibit, specifically seeing the pictures from the day he was assassinated. Looking at the images of the blood-stained balcony after he was shot and seeing him being carried out on a stretcher, it made even more aware of the gravity of the fact that he, like many other leaders in the Civil Rights Movement and later the Black Power Movement were assassinated or wrongfully convicted. It speaks to the larger issue of how the many tragedies of the civil rights movement are understated in efforts to make the injustices of the time more palatable. Along with this, it enables the mindset that the issues of these times were long ago or that the work of these movements has been accomplished.  Many of our grandparents lived through this time and not only this minority and marginalized communities are still adversely impacted by structural, environmental, and systematic racism. We have come a long way from the time of the 60s, but we still have a long way to go. Since many of our leaders were taken too soon, we must continue the work and campaigns they were unable to finish and continue to dismantle white supremacy.

Abhinav Shubam (PhD, Operations Management, Scheller College of Business)

As a researcher who deals with issues of fairness and equity in one’s work, I was aware of the broad strokes of the history of racial inequities in the US. However, as the famous saying goes, information is not knowledge and knowledge is not wisdom. Visiting the National Center for Civil and Human Rights really gave me a glimpse into the true extent of inequities and the strength of character of the people who had to endure them. It gave me a glimpse into their struggle which has undoubtedly paved a path for others like me to live a much fairer life. It is almost impossible to decide which one single exhibit was the most impactful, however, I have to acknowledge that the exhibit on MLK Jr.’s funeral was the most moving. The exhibit features pictures of the funeral day and procession, with somber light and color schemes to really help the viewer reflect on the extent of tragedy that had occurred. The most impactful part of the exhibit was the juxtaposition of the drum major instinct speech playing in the background. I was absolutely transfixed by power of those words. I experienced a range of emotions. It was heart wrenching, but strangely also hopeful. More importantly, it was a call to action. Standing there in that exhibit, looking at the pained expressions on MLK Jr.’s family members and followers, I felt strong sense of kinship, a strong sense of loss. I felt anger. However, I did not have hate in my heart in that moment, and the only reason for that was MLK Jr’s powerful words playing in the background, helping me channel my anger into more righteous endeavors, into acts of service and love. I left that day, with a lot of respect in my heart. I think it will help me treat my work with a lot more respect and care.