Volunteer Spotlight: Bette Graves Thomas
Q: What inspired you to volunteer at The Center?
I have worked all of my adult life – 46 years to be exact. I knew it was time to retire but I was not ready to just come home and wait for my time to enter eternal life. I wanted to do SOMETHING but it had to be something that felt worthwhile and purposeful. Six months before my retirement The Center opened and I decided it was what I wanted to support. So I began the volunteer training, and I have been [a volunteer] ever since. I love my position at [The Center] because I am able to help people, as well as to see EVERYONE who enters. It’s a win – win for me!
Q: What was your perception of The Center prior to visiting, and how has your perception changed since your experience at The Center?
The only thing I had to compare The Center to was the Civil Rights Center Museum in Birmingham. I took my students there when I was teaching. Like the Birmingham Museum, The Center has so much to offer.
Q: What has been the most exciting moment during your experience at the Center for Civil and Human Rights, so far?
Thus far my most exciting moment was when I learned that I am the Volunteer of the Month. I’m only here weekly, not daily, but I do try to accommodate our guests when I am here. It is a great honor for me to have been observed, unknowingly, and found to be worthy of this honor.
Q: What is your favorite exhibition and why?
The Four Little Girls Exhibit is my favorite. Of course it is very sad to think that the little girls had to lose their lives, but it is also rewarding to see that The Center has recognized and honored them. I cry each time I go to that exhibition, as I have three children and ten grandchildren. I can hardly imagine losing any of them. The Center has done a remarkable job to capture the hearts of those who lives were lost in the movement.
Q: What do you enjoy most about interacting with visitors of The Center?
I enjoy hearing their stories, where they are from, what part they may have played in the movement, and why they came to visit. Many are new to America and it is a joy to be able to welcome them with open arms or “clasped hands”. I also enjoy answering their questions about my experience growing up during the Civil Rights Movement.
Q: If you could spend time with any leader featured in The Center, who would you choose and why?
As strange as it may sound, I’d like to have a one-on-one with some of the segregationists, like Lester Maddox. I would ask what it was about MY people that made them hate us? I know that will never happen but I’d certainly like to know.
Bette Graves Thomas, a native Atlantan, received her bachelor and master degrees from Spelman College and Atlanta University. She is the mother of three, Bernard, Linda and Jason and the doting grandmother of ten grandchildren. Bette, is now 68-years-old and lived through the Civil Rights Movement. Her work experience has included teaching elementary school for 31 years and serving as a church administrator for 15 years at the First Congregational United Church of Christ. She is now retired and enjoys volunteering at the Center for Civil and Human Rights and at the Southwest Arts Center.