The National Civil Rights Museum continues to celebrate its 20th anniversary Saturday with a community celebration that will feature discounted admissions from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
The museum had it ceremonial opening in July 1991 but there was still some work to be done on the exhibits before it opened to the public permanently in Sept. of that year.
Since then, the museum has tallied some of its achievements which include 3.2 million visitors, 434,149 visits by school children, 10,193 group visits and hosting 18 world leaders. When they say world leaders they are talking Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, Lech Walesa and the Dalai Lama just to name four.
That doesn’t count the numerous cultural and political figures who were featured during the Freedom Awards conferences that were held with the awards in the early years of the museum.
The array of opinions and personalities was stunning and also probably pretty expensive to continue along with the Freedom Award winners.
I remember seeing the poet, writer and playwright Amiri Baraka, also known as LeRoi Jones, at the conference one year. There was a riveting panel discussion featuring Ice-T and Henry Rollins that held its own even though Gil Scott Herron had to cancel at the last minute.
Ice-T was in the midst of the controversy over his “Cop Killer” tune and the wife of a police officer came to the forum to disagree with him. Neither flinched during a discussion that easily could have turned ugly or personal or both but didn’t.
Among the Freedom Award winners, author Elie Weisel stands out for me as does Dr. Bernard Kouchner, the founder of Doctors Without Borders.
The series is a local undertaking that has a focus well beyond the local. It sets the highest standards for the international figures and voices that the organizers want heard in Memphis. It is one of the important ways that we emphasize our place in the world and the discussions that bring us together globally.
In so many ways, what we do here reaches the world. That’s true of our cultural contributions, the medical advances being made every day as well as our businesses.
It is important to remember this isn’t a one way trip. The world should come to us as well.