Our second weekend here we visited the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and the Martin Luther King Jr Center.
Its our last night in Atlanta and since I packed away all the sewing stuff I get a break from Frozen etsy orders and decided to write a blog about that weekend, since I'd planned to blog more while I was here but got busy with etsy.
I didn't realize today was the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act so it was an appropriate coincidence that I am blogging about our time visiting the moving exhibits honoring MLK.
When we arrived we tried to give the kids a little background on the whole different world that people experienced just 50 years ago. Laci has always been a Civil War buff with an odd fixation from the age of 2 on Lincoln, so she was well aware of the evils of slavery that entangled our nation. However, I am not sure how much she understood the long term effects on the lives of black Americans . She does read Addy American Girl doll books, Addy is a slave who escapes to Philadelphia, so she has an idea of the struggles people faced but I don't think she grasped how long it continued.
The other two are young but Ella had many questions as we walked through exhibits. I think at their tender ages in an age where they don't distinguish people by trivial things such as skin color it has to be just absolutely bewildering why such things were perpetrated against people over something they can't control, something that doesn't matter.
As you walk into the Martin Luther King center ,its quite crowded and chaotic as they tell me it normally is. There are a few exhibits highlighting people who helped form the center and I assume exhibits that are changed out frequently because they highlight the every day person as a civil rights activist.
Once walking into the actual MLK portion, I dont if I can explain it but its quite overwhelming.
The first thing you see (and I tried to get a photo but it was crowded and I was moved so I wasn't documenting much) was a glass wall with Jim Crowe Laws inscribed on it. I tried to read some to Laci just to show that even though they had been free for nearly a hundred years, black Americans were still being treated horribly. I don't know if there is even a word for the treatment.
She didn't realize how all encompassing these laws could be over the most mundane aspects of life.
And standing in front of a 15 foot tall glass wall inscribed with these acts against humanity I too was blown away.
We all learn them in history class, but standing there under them it was just overwhelming and takes your breath away. You can almost feel the oppression just from the printed words, because there were
just. so. many.
The emotions continue as the next exhibit is a replica of the kitchen where MLK JR prayed nightly- along with videos talking about that kitchen being fire bombed. He had kids. No one cared if they died too. Unfathomable evil.
I'm guessing for space sake, you then go to the actual wagon that carried his casket through the streets of Atlanta after his service at Ebeneezer Baptist.
All of Atlanta seemed pack in the streets around the wagon. You couldn't have fit any more people on the streets as the walked four miles in the procession.
There were a lot of whys asked, and how do you really answer why a person hates someone for skin color? There's no answer but evil. And not everyone who felt that way was an evil person. I think its an important distinction.
Racism is in itself a pervasive evil but I don't think all people who were prejudiced were evil. I think it was such an ugly time and that evil had such long roots that many otherwise good people were led astray by fallacies.
I love the music South Pacific, and one of the famous songs in it says
You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!
There's so much truth in that. Racism like so many things is passed down through the generations and if people arent taught another way so often they continue down the same mistaken paths.
Im not saying they're not guilty of wrong doing- somewhere deep inside you have to know how wrong such a view is- I'm just saying that not all were evil - the hate, the racism they allowed to take over was in fact evil.
It's hard to explain such things to innocent minds who just see people.
And walking through the exhibits it was hard to fathom it myself as a grown adult.
The exhibits are really well done. You feel the fear they must have felt leading these marches. These were brave brave people.
The I AM a man sign always gets to me.
I just kept saying to Tony the whole time how courageous MLK had to be. And you know that intellectually, but listening to audio, seeing videos walking through staged marches- these people knew they were risking it all everytime they went out and they experienced many injustices and atrocities and they kept on.
At one march one of the keynote speakers was shot - at the rally. They didn't stop. He went to the hospital and
They. Marched. On.
Of course, we all know how the story ends.
He died the following day after that speech. I can't help but wonder if great figures know. Thinking of MLK and Lincoln and so many others speaking similar things immediately before they're taken from the world.“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”
They have several videos playing at once with funeral footage, and footage of the same procession I mentioned above. Surrounding the tvs were large prints of him standing on the balcony just before he was shot, I'm sure we are familliar with those images.
It was very moving, just like the whole museum. You really just feel such a conflict of emotions the entire time: sadness, overhwhelmed, shock, hope, fear, awe. They all swirl around you at once and you cannot help but feel the turmoil of that time period- its almost electric.
The museum is simply done, but well done. It gets the message across- many messages.
They have a temporary exhibit now with a mock Lincoln monument, of course, for the I Have a Dream speech complete with a tiny reflecting pool.
The kids loved this because, like I said they love Lincoln.
its pretty convincing from the correct angle ;)
The Dream speech was largely forgotten until his death. Now its iconic like the Gettysburg Address.
We followed this up with a brilliant short film just detailing his early life with shots of the home. It was really interesting to listen to stories of his early years and his father's influence on him in regards to being treated like man like anyone else.
They shared a story of Martin walking with his daddy and wanting a pair of shoes in a store window.
When they tried to enter they were told they had to use the back door.
Martin, or ML as they apparently called him, didn't get his shoes that day.
He instead got a lecture by his father on how he wouldn't be told he was less of a man because of his skin color that it wasn't ok to just accept that untruth.
We took a walk across the street to the church he grew up in, his dad was a preacher, and where he later co pastored with his brother.
Its a beautiful old church all wooden inside like stepping back in history.
It was pretty amazing to stand right at the pulpit he preached from while his sermons played overhead in speakers
We just sat for the longest time. It was awe inspiring. The mix of history, his voice playing, the time transporting look of the place, like its frozen in time- I don't know I'm a history nerd I like to breathe it all in. Some people like to chase after celebrities, I like chasing history. It almost feels electric being in a place where amazing things happened.
You can also tour his home but you better get there at opening. You get tickets at the MLK JR Center (where the museum is located) its free, but limited so they assign tickets.
If you find yourself in the Atlanta area its a must do. Its fairly easy to get to and free of charge. Its a wonderful experience. If you have kids please take them. I am a firm believer the best way to learn history is to experience it. This place certainly brings to life the era Martin Luther King Jr was fighting in much better than any text book.