The National Civil Rights Museum gets much more than a facelift with its $28 million renovation.
That certainty was on display Wednesday as The New Tri-State Defender took advantage of a preview tour. Care has been taken to maintain the integrity of the museum, which opened in 1991. And while 100 percent of the original content still is there, technology has moved in, with multiple, virtually interactive and touch-screen displays.
The changeover has been underway since last November and the sounds of continued work spoke to the museum's evolution as members of the media got a sneak-peek tour. The doors of the unique museum are set to reopen at 11 a.m. on April 5th. The wish list for the reopening scenario includes a visit by President Barack Obama, who has not yet said whether he will accept the extended invitation.
Museum President Beverly Robertson, who has announced her retirement, was close at hand during the preview, ever ready to note that the museum – located at the Lorraine Motel, the assassination site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4th, 1968 – is one of very few museums situated at the actual place of a historic site.
"What makes our museum different is that it provides a comprehensive account of the civil rights story," said Robertson.
"This is intense and important work that deserves excellence. We have to fight to make sure this is a strong American story, which is a story of a strong and committed people."
With the renovation, visitors should expect a state of the art technological facility that includes:
• A new lobby that still has the 7,000-pound bronze signature statue, Movement to Overcome;
• Close to 20 new exhibits that include less notable people from the civil rights movement who accomplished extraordinary things;
• More interactive exhibits;
• And a beautiful conference room that can be used for private community events.
The museum staff collaborated closely with the renovation design team and scholar review committee to provide holistic advice and counsel for the development of the enhanced facility. The renovation project team is comprised of Howard + Revis Design Services, 1220, Electrosonic, Second Story, Flintco Constructive Solutions, JPA and Self + Tucker Architects.
The 24-member National Scholar Review Committee was tasked with interpretive plan development and review of the exhibits content. Primary advisory scholars included Dr. Stephanie Shaw, Dr. Hassan Kwame Jefferies, Dr. Earnestine Jenkins and Daniel Kiel, JD.
The museum will feature additional educational programming, enhanced amenities, better connections to the buildings and updates in history, said Robertson.
Updates in history include additions to existing exhibits such as the "Birmingham Church Bombing" that killed four little girls in September of 1963. On May 18, 2000, the FBI announced that the Cahaba Boys, a Ku Klux Klan splinter group, had carried out the fatal bombing at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. The updated exhibit will include the names of those responsible for the deaths of Addie Mae Collins (14), Denise McNair (11), Carole Robertson (14), and Cynthia Wesley (14). Twenty-two others were injured.
Though much has changed at the museum, some spaces are too precious to alter, such as room 306, where Dr. King was staying when he was assassinated. There are plans to renovate the information area outside of the rooms, but not plan to change the room in any way.
"I want everyone who attends the museum to know that they have the power to make a difference," said Robertson.
"Each one of us has the power to make a change. The civil rights movement is about everyday people doing their role to make this world a better place."
The National Civil Rights Museum will tie the historic passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to its grand reopening via a forum of national leaders, historians, scholars and civil rights activists on Friday, April 4th from 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Following the forum, there will be a candlelight vigil in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was shot to death on the balcony of the Lorraine on April 4th, 1968.
Saturday, April 5th is Community Day, which kicks off with the Freedom Forward Parade at 9:30 a.m. Twenty-plus organizations and schools will march from the Memphis Cook Convention Center along Second Street to the National Civil Rights Museum.
Following the parade is Breaking of the Chains, the museum's official opening ceremony. It begins at 11 a.m., with entertainment on the Freedom Forward Main Stage from noon until 7 p.m.
The events are free to the public.
Admission to the museum will be discounted from $15 to $5 for the weekend.