By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - A museum opening in Atlanta on Monday links the U.S. civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s to modern fights for human rights across the world to give visitors new insight on how the struggles are related, organizers said.
The National Center for Civil and Human Rights will feature handwritten letters from the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., along with exhibits on the fight for equal rights for women, gays, the disabled and other groups.
There also are displays about racially segregated buses and lunch counters in the American South and on dictators past and present including the Soviet Union's Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot of Cambodia and Syria's Bashar al-Assad.
“The civil rights activists really called it a human rights movement,” said the center's chief executive officer, Doug Shipman, during a media preview on Thursday. “They went on to work on anti-apartheid struggles, women rights, gay rights.”
Museum organizers aim to bring fresh awareness to efforts made against racial segregation and restricted voting rights for African Americans by showing their connections to the contemporary human rights movement.
“People today can say, ‘I care about what happened because it’s relevant to what I’m working on right now,’” Shipman said.
The 40,000-square-foot (3,700-square-meter) museum in downtown Atlanta was conceived by civil rights leaders Evelyn Lowery and Andrew Young, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and mayor of Atlanta.
Funded by corporate and foundation donations, it is located adjacent to the World of Coca-Cola museum and the Georgia Aquarium.
The museum is an important addition for Atlanta, King’s hometown, said William Harbour, a black resident of the city who said he spent 49 days in a Mississippi jail in 1961 for going to the white side of a bus station as part of the Freedom Riders movement.
“A lot of young people don’t understand what happened,” Harbour said. “It’s amazing that young people don’t understand that you couldn’t ride on the front seat of a bus or go in a restaurant and sit down at a counter.”
(Reporting by David Beasley; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Eric Beech)