Just so you know, I’m a child of the segregated South. I grew up in Atlanta in the 1950s and 1960s. Jim Crow was old and set in his ugly ways. I had to sit in the back of the bus. I had to sit in the “crow’s nest” above the balcony at the Fox Theatre to see a movie (by way of the side steps outside). And, if I wanted a drink of water in a public place, I was relegated to the “colored” water fountain, which was usually nasty.

That’s why it was so moving on Monday to hear Doug Shipman talk about the plans and progress at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights at the Rotary Club of Atlanta.

Doug, CEO of the Center, noted to the mostly White businessmen in the audience that it’s been nearly 50 years since the historic 1963 March on Washington, which was made famous by the turnout of the crowd and by Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. And with that passage of time, Doug said, we can move from memorializing a historic moment like this to looking at “what it means today.”

And that’s his goal for the new Center. In his talk titled: Atlanta’s Destiny as the Cradle of Human and Civil Rights for the 21st Century,” praised the business community in Atlanta for “always being on the right side of history.

“You’re not afraid to rebuild and embrace the future,” he told the business leaders. And now he sees the Center as the place that connects the history of the Civil Rights Movement to human rights movements around the world today and in the future.

He took his listeners through the features and exhibits that will be in the space when it opens downtown next to the World of Coke and the Georgia Aquarium on Pemberton Place in May 2014. Among interactive technology, it will include exhibits of the Martin Luther King Jr. Papers, owned by Morehouse College, which will be rotated every three months.

It will have interactive displays that will be “engaging and dazzling,” he said.

He said the Center will be a catalyst and partner for others to discuss vital issues confronting communities around the world. “We have a legacy that we have not yet fully embraced,” he added.

I like what he said about the two other important centers in Atlanta that also have a civil and human rights focus. The (Jimmy) Carter (Presidential Library and) Center is a wholesaler, speaking directly to practitioners on the world stage, and the (Martin Luther) King Center has a focus on training, and “we are the retailer,” with a focus on tourists and community outreach.

And while the Center may focus on issues that some may think controversial, Doug said he’s not worried about it being “ground zero” for protests and demonstrations. “We want to be a place for civil discourse with a variety of viewpoints,” he said. “Our one legacy is nonviolence. And that we will maintain.”

Doug also reported that the Center will be self-sustaining once opened. It won’t have to raise operating funds each year. He also announced several new contributions that have enabled them to begin construction in earnest. The Arthur Blank family foundation has donated an additional $1.5 million on top of the $1 million they had pledged before. The Coca-Cola Company has donated $500,000 in cash to go with the land it donated on which the Center will stand.

And, he told the Rotary group that PNC Bank and Invest Atlanta (the city’s development authority) closed on $24 million in federal New Market Tax Credits at the end of February, which provides a key financial instrument critical to getting the project out of the ground.

So I am really looking forward to be among the crowd when it opens next year. I’ll be proud to see the story of the role that the Atlanta Daily World played, along with many others, to bring about the vibrant city of diversity that we see today. And I am so gratified that we continued to look to the future for what we can do next to make the world a better place for everyone.

For more information about the Center, check out its website at http://www.civilandhumanrights.org.

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