Featured Guest: Dr. Gwendolyn Middlebrooks

It has been 50 years since the assassination of civil rights icon the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and yet his legacy lives on as large as ever.

For 2018’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, the Atlanta History Center will offer free admission to attendees and, for the second year in a row, a slate of special programming.

“We made the decision (to offer special programming) in 2017 because we saw such an opportunity to bring our museum theater program offerings to a large crowd,” said Joanna Arietta Potter, director of adult and family programs at the Atlanta History Center.

The Buckhead-based institution has offered free admission on MLK Day since 2013, drawing a record 3,089 visitors last year. Free admission will also be offered at the Margaret Mitchell House at Atlanta History Center Midtown. Both locations will be open from 10 am – :30pm. Monday.

Scheduled free programming is intended to engage a local with segregation and civil rights movement-sparked integration, with a special emphasis on Atlanta’s key role in the story.

A highlight for 2018 will be two screenings of the film “A Trek to the River’s Edge.” Created by filmmaker Althea Brown, the film highlights 1960s student leaders from the Atlanta University Center.

Brown said she’s been working on the project for more than two decades. In its present form, the film lasts 30 minutes, but she envisions a feature-length version at some point. She said the story’s tremendous significance has inspired her to stick with the project for so long.

“About 20 years ago, I met a group of shakers and movers from the Atlanta student movement.” said Brown. “Their story was so dynamic, and not that many people even know about it.”

The film features several well-known Atlanta civil rights leaders, including former state Sen. and NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, who passed away in 2015. Bond and fellow students including Lonnie King and Roslyn Pope launched the movement after meeting at a Morehouse College coffee shop, authoring “An Appeal for Human Rights” in March 1960, which ran in several newspapers, including The Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Brown notes that students and future leaders can learn from and be inspired by the 1960s leaders to continue fighting injustice.

“The thing about this particular movement is that it happened strategically,” said Brown. “There was a plan put into place. They followed that plan; they thought strategically on how to make things happen. Yelling and screaming and shouting hadn’t worked in the past. It doesn’t work now.”

“A Trek to the River’s Edge” will be shown at 1 and 3 p.m., with a discussion following each screening. Other programming scheduled for MLK Day includes a Freedom Ride simulation and several screenings of “The Big March,” which details the 1963 March on Washington. Visitors are encouraged to check AtlantaHistoryCenter.com for schedule updates.

Potter emphasized that the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s was not the only time people have fought against inequality and bigotry.

“All too often, history books focus on sole figures during the civil rights movement and don’t pay enough attention to the young people on college campuses, such as those of the Atlanta University Center, where a lot of the work to gain equality was being done,” said Potter. “It is super inspiring to see the former student leaders and hear about their experiences.”

She pointed out that there are many reasons why it is so important to continue honoring King through programming and other events, especially in Atlanta.

“King’s birthplace and home are here in Atlanta, he is important as leader in the civil rights movement, and the echoes of his nonviolent protests still resonate today with social injustice change,” said Potter. “We see Dr. King as an important figure in his own right, and also as a representation of what a community can do when it comes together to fight injustice.”

(by Halsten Willis for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

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