Members of Atlanta's civil rights community sing We shall overcome at the grand opening of the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta Ga.Monday June 23rd 2014.
Members of Atlanta’s civil rights community sing We shall overcome at the grand opening of the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta Ga.Monday June 23rd 2014. (Photo by John Disney/Daily Report)

The vision for the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, which opened on Monday, evolved from chronicling the U.S. civil rights movement, for which Atlanta was a locus, to establishing a global center on human rights, said Ernest Greer, a lawyer on its board of directors.

The planners decided to broaden the focus beyond the United States to look at civil rights in an international context, as a component of human rights, said Greer, who is Greenberg Traurig’s local comanaging shareholder and the chairman of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

“We did not want to limit it to the South and civil rights issues,” said Greer, adding that he thinks the center will further raise Atlanta’s international profile. He was asked to join its board by former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and center CEO Doug Shipman during the early stages. Two other lawyers on the board are the emeritus chairman, Vernon Jordan, and Lawrence Ashe of Parker, Hudson, Ranier & Dobbs.

The center is located in downtown Atlanta on land donated by The Coca-Cola Co. at one end of Centennial Olympic Park, near such attractions as the World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium.

Civil rights legends Evelyn Lowery and former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young first envisioned the center, which gained broad community and corporate support during Franklin’s tenure.

Corporate sponsors include Atlanta’s largest companies: Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Turner, Delta, SunTrust, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, AT&T, UPS, Newell Rubbermaid, Southern Co. and Equifax.

Law firm sponsors are: Jones Day, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, Greenberg Traurig, Holland & Knight, King & Spalding, Sutherland Asbill & Brennan and McKenna, Long & Aldridge. The Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys and the State Bar of Georgia also contributed.

Several exhibits bring the U.S. civil rights movement to life, including one of a Freedom Rider bus covered in mug shots of jailed activists, both black and white.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s role is chronicled, with exhibits showing the 1963 March on Washington, King’s 1968 assassination and footage from his funeral.

Greer said an exhibit of King’s papers on the lower floor allows people to see actual drafts of his letters, speeches and memos, with his edits. “You really live it,” he said.

The role of white Atlantans in the civil rights movement is also included, Greer said, mentioning former Coca-Cola president Robert Woodruff’s influence in getting the white establishment to buy tickets to an Atlanta dinner to honor King after he received the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.

A human rights gallery has a more contemporary focus, showing activists for immigrant and disability rights in the U.S., women’s rights in Iran, gay rights in Russia and HIV/AIDS issues in China.

The center is open every day of the week, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $15 for adults, $13 for seniors and students and $10 for children ages 3-12.