Atlanta's plan to build a civil rights museum is stirring debate
about which venue would best tell the story of that turbulent and
inspiring time: downtown, among sleek corporate buildings and
cultural institutions, or Martin Luther King Jr.'s old stomping
grounds on Auburn Avenue, known as "black Main Street," with its
housing projects and fried fish joints.
A decision about where to put a civil rights museum is likely to
inform how the story about the civil rights movement is told - and
is as important as the papers and artifacts that the building will
house, say experts.
For some, the museum should focus on how the movement of the
1950s and '60s succeeded in transforming a segregated society into a
publicly integrated one. Others want the new museum to emphasize
that race relations are a continuing struggle - and they note that
the poverty and social segregation evident along Auburn Avenue are
proof that Dr. King's dream is only half-fulfilled.
"It's going to be a tough discussion, especially when you ask the
question: Why not spend tens of millions of dollars to build upon
the living museum that Auburn Avenue still is, where you can see the
barbershop where King got his hair cut?" says Claybourne Carson,
director of the King Research and Education Institute at Stanford
University in California.
This summer, Atlanta borrowed from SunTrust bank to buy 7,000
pages of King's personal papers for $32 million. They include
everything from divinity student marginalia to handwritten notes for
his "I have a dream" speech.
The debate has surged anew in the three weeks since Coca-Cola Co.
offered the city a piece of land next to its new and expanded World
of Coca-Cola museum, located a few miles from the site on Auburn
Avenue. That offer accelerated a leisurely, 20-year effort to build
the museum. "Six months ago, we didn't have content, and we didn't
have a site, and now we have both," says museum committee member
The city's size and its number of tourists mean that the Atlanta
Civil Rights Museum is likely to become the nation's largest and
busiest. Indeed, King's legacy is very much alive. Presidents Bush
and Clinton were on hand for the groundbreaking of a $100 million
National King Memorial on the Mall in Washington Monday, the first
memorial for a nonpresident.
In Atlanta, Mayor Shirley Franklin says the challenge is to
differentiate the city's civil rights presentation from some 100
other African- American collections and three major civil rights
museums in Birmingham, Ala. …