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Another interactive exhibit in the American Civil Rights Movement Gallery. Photo by Melissa Lowrie

Free to take an educational journey

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The map denotes levels of political freedom. Photo by Melissa Lowrie


Canoe Kids

By Melissa Lowrie

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With the never-ending stream of current events involving race relations in the U.S., a trip to the Center for Civil and Human Rights was extraordinarily relevant.

For this trip, I took two seventh-graders, and probably wouldn’t suggest children any younger than 13 go …not to say younger kids wouldn’t get anything out of the visit, but this place tackles some heavy material.

Just opened in June of 2014, the center, adjacent to the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, is a modern, 43,000 square-foot attraction full of insightful information.

On the first floor, visitors will find personal items including hand-written letters from Martin Luther King, Jr. The gallery features a rotating exhibition of items from the Morehouse College collection. “Strategies of the Civil Rights Movement”is on view until May 3. Letters from Robert Kennedy and President Lyndon Johnson to Dr. King are displayed, as well as notes from King’s speech on Selma in 1965.

The second floor holds the American Civil Rights Movement Gallery. The curator of the “Rolls Down Like Water”exhibition, George C. Wolfe, did a fantastic job creating a feeling of being immersed in the urban south in the 50s and 60s.

In interactive wall displays the Jim Crow laws for each southeastern state, and there is a lunch counter simulator depicting the sit-ins. Visitors put on headphones to hear taped voices making threats to demonstrators. There is a room with a giant screen showing clips of the March on Washington.

Perhaps the most graphic section holds images from the day Dr. King was assassinated. The group of rooms is very dark, and includes a replica of the flickering sign from the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The area is the opposite of the bright white room showing the March on Washington. The effect is stunning.

There seems to be no wasted space in the Center for Civil and Human Rights, as everywhere you look is another photo, quote or fact. It is a lot of information to absorb, even for an adult. The center’s creators did an outstanding job presenting the facts in interactive and easily-digestible chunks.

My kids seemed interested and engaged, but maybe a little overwhelmed. (Me, too.) When I said I felt like protesting something, one of the girls said, “It’s inspiring.”Full disclosure: the other was ready to head for Flip for a Nutella shake. More on that later.

The third floor of the center focuses on global human rights. From Mandela to Gandhi, and child-labor to the Holocaust, this exhibition takes visitors beyond U.S. soil. Occupying an entire wall, a world map colors countries in three shades: red; orange; and yellow. Each color stands for a level of freedom.

The Center for Civil and Human Rights is a great place to go to spark interesting conversation. It’s thought-provoking and definitely worth the trip into Atlanta.

On a lighter note, let’s talk about lunch. We stopped on the way home at Flip on Howell Mill Road for a post-Canoe-Kids debriefing. Oh, and onion rings, fries, burgers and Nutella + burnt marshmallow milkshakes. Nothing like a good meal to round out the outing. (And if Nutella isn’t your thing, there’s a Krispy Kreme milkshake, too.)

I’d put the Center for Civil and Human Rights on the list of something to do with older kids, especially those that are studying or have studied civil rights in school. It’s an educational stop, for sure.

Wherever you end up, have a great time with your Canoe Kids.

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