chapter  5
25 Pages

“Inspiration Lives Here”

Struggle, martyrdom, and redemption in Atlanta’s National Center for Civil and Human Rights
WithJoyce Apsel

This chapter discusses factors that influenced the establishment and content of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights (CCHR) in downtown Atlanta in 2014 and analyzes the themes of struggle, sacrifice, and martyrdom central throughout its largest gallery, “Rolls Down Like Water: The American Civil Rights Movement.” The Center aims to be a site of persuasion through education programs and its efforts “to inspire” visitors to take action against injustice. Exhibits focus on non-violent resistance and those heroes/heroines challenging segregationists through marches, sit-ins, freedom-rides, voter registration, and other protests during the 1950s and 1960s. “Rolls Down Like Water” stages the civil rights struggle as drama, tracing its ups and downs, through interactive exhibits, music, oral history, and TV footage from the time, and encourages visitors to “experience” the past. The exhibits emphasize the role of charismatic leadership, particularly that of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the movement’s accomplishments in dismantling segregation. But in order to appeal to a mainstream audience, the civil rights struggle is situated within the larger, progressive (if at times flawed) history of American democracy. Missing is the legacy of ongoing inequity from housing to voting and jobs. Hence, the CCHR reflects a powerful re-telling of aspects of the struggle and sacrifice for racial equality and justice that is framed through the politics of selective memory.