Morehouse Roots: Morehouse College Students explore Dr. King’s legacy at The Center
by Lewis Miles and Casey Jones
Morehouse College students from Dr. Vicki Crawford’s course, Research Utilizing the Martin L. King, Jr. Collection and the Nexus of Archives, Museums and Historic Sites, visited the Center for Civil and Human Rights during the Fall 2015 semester. These students explored The Center and its exhibitions and found a deep connection to their Morehouse roots through the “Voice to the Voiceless Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection.”
Upon their visit, the students spent time looking at the exhibit, The Meaning of the Nobel Prize, while working on a resource guide for the new exhibit, King and Youth Involvement in the American Civil Rights Movement. Two of those students, Lewis Miles and Casey Jones, shared the experiences of their visit. Miles felt a strong connection to “Voice to the Voiceless: The Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection” and the legacy of Dr. King. Jones spoke of a chance encounter with fellow Morehouse Man, Julian Bond that would be the catalyst to a more enriched visit to The Center later on.
Lewis Miles, a King Legacy Scholar had the following thoughts after his visit to The Center, not only about the space, but about the enormous legacy of Dr. King:
Center for Civil and Human Rights serves as a reminder of those who spoke when others were voiceless, listened when others were socially or politically muted, and marched when others stood in the way of equality. The Center shifts marginal narratives to the spotlight and reminds visitors that America, the Home of the Brave, not too long ago found normalcy in racial inequality. Throughout The Center, there are tokens of the activism, social leadership, and resistance to racial inequality that emerged from the Atlanta University Center. Student movements of the sixties offer reassurance that college students today can serve as voices to the voiceless. Imagery surrounding student sit-ins and protests remind us that resistance to inequality can take many forms. More importantly, the Nobel Peace Prize Exhibit pays tribute to the radical and world-changing leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. To witness Morehouse College’s most acclaimed alumnus encased in history is a testament to the mission, legacy, and history of the college in producing men who are dedicated to using the truth as the most liberating force. Simultaneously, Dr. King’s exhibit serves as a reminder of the inequalities and societal ills that still persist across the globe. Dr. King's dreams, nonviolent philosophy, and contribution to mankind serve as a constant impetus for me to be a lifelong agent of progressive global social change.
Casey Jones tells us about his experience upon visiting The Center on not one, but two occasions. The first visit was in the Spring of 2015, where fellow Morehouse Man and civil rights icon, Julian Bond happened to be visiting The Center. The second instance was in the Fall of 2015 as returned for a class assignment on “Voice to the Voiceless” but found himself engaged in the temporary exhibit on Atlanta’s LGBTQ movement, “Forward Together”:
“In the Spring of 2015, I visited the Center for Civil and Human Rights with a friend from Georgia Tech who had never been to The Center. We came across Julian Bond casually sitting in a small plastic chair next to the entrance. I pointed him out to my friend and explained who he was. When I walked over, I was slightly anticipating some staff member or personal assistant to swoop in and interrupt my approach, but no. I casually walked over and shook his hand, thanked him for all he had done to change the world I live in, and, at my friend’s suggestion, took a photo. I did not realize until August 15th that I had missed my chance to glean from his wisdom first hand. I thought I would be able to make arrangements for him to visit Morehouse later. I thought I would be late for my meeting. I thought my friend really needed to have the opportunity to see some of the exhibitions before we had to go…I thought a lot of things but they amounted to nothing but a missed opportunity. How was I supposed to know he was going to be gone the week before the Fall Semester began at Morehouse College? How was I supposed to know that he would not be around to share all the wisdom I imagined with me and my colleagues? The truth is I couldn’t know that any of these things, but what I knew then was that this hero was there making himself available and I missed the opportunity to learn from him.
In August, just a week after Mr. Bond passed away, I joined a class whose goal was to develop student skills in material culture, archival research, and museum studies using the resources and relationships available through the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Collection. One of the assignments for this course was to examine an exhibition at the Center for Civil and Human Rights. In the lower level of The Center, there is a gallery called “Voice to the Voiceless: The Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection” which houses a rotating exhibition of artifacts and documents from the collection. At the time of our visit and the exhibition was about Dr. King receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. A portion of the class would consist of us creating a supplemental guide for the next rotation, on King and Youth. Knowing this, examining “Voice to the Voiceless felt like an obvious choice. However, when I walked down the spiral case to the gallery, I noticed that the space where temporary rotating exhibits are housed had this large colorful timeline running across it; it was an exhibition on the history of Atlanta’s LGBTQ movement called “Forward Together.”
As I sat and examined the timeline for a second before entering the gallery, a gentleman asked if I would like to join a photograph with other young people. I obliged, and was then asked if I would like to join a small group of students looking at the exhibition together with one of its curators, a veteran of the Atlanta LGBTQ Movement named Dave Hayward. Remembering that missed opportunity with Julian Bond, I obliged, and experienced The Center in a way I had never before or even imagined I could.
Dave offered the warmth of an enthusiastic old-timer energized by the opportunity to offer some young people his history. His age was overtaken by a jovial desire to spill the knowledge he had accumulated over his years as an activist. I was inspired by his energy and even stayed after to continue talking with him about the project and about his work in public history. Dave and I talked about the connections we shared to create opportunities to work with one another to spread this special history and to continue its work amongst a new generation of activists.
In an interview, Julian Bond once shared that his advice to young people was that they should, “get the best education they can, and couple that education with real-life experience in social justice work…” At the end of this visit I felt that I had headed his advice, and redeemed that lost opportunity. I learned that there are a number of individuals and organizations doing the work of documenting the histories of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender folks and communities in our state, and I found myself being conscripted into projects and opportunities making connections and figuring out ways to coordinate support. The Center facilitated the beautiful experience I shared with Dave; that experience was a collective experience of action in which we were creating and considering how we would make the world better together. It is a place of rich opportunities that I hope never to miss again.