The long-awaited Louisiana Civil Rights Museum in New Orleans, in the works for more than two decades, held its grand opening on Saturday (Oct. 7). The new museum, housed in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, is dedicated to telling the stories of Louisiana’s civil rights heroes and how they transformed the state into a center for the national Civil Rights Movement. It opened to the public on Sunday.
“If you don’t get goosebumps and a tear in your eye, then something’s wrong,” said Lt. Gov. William “Billy” Nungesser during the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the museum on Saturday.
In addition to Nungesser, the grand opening of the museum featured civil rights activist Don Hubbard, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell and former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, who gave the keynote address.
The museum features exhibits on the people and events that transpired — including boycotts, protests and demonstrations — during the struggle for civil rights in Louisiana. One feature is an artificial intelligence cube that visitors can enter and interact with Ruby Bridges about her role in desegregating schools in New Orleans.
The legislation to create a civil rights museum was introduced by former State Senate President Pro Tempore Diana Bajoie in 1999. An advisory board was created to find a suitable location and raise funds for the museum.
The advisory board went through a number of location issues. A 2004 plan to locate the museum in the former Myrtle Banks Elementary School building on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard was derailed — first by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and later by a fire. Then, in 2013, it lost a bid on the former ArtWorks building to the New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute.
“This has been a long journey, but no one took it alone,” said Brenda Williams, president of the Civil Rights Museum advisory board.
Even though one of the longest marches of the Civil Rights Movement occurred in Louisiana — the 105-mile march from Bogalusa to Baton Rouge in 1967 — and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, co-founded by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., has its roots in the state, Louisiana was the only state in the Deep South that did not have a civil rights museum. Texas’ Dallas Civil Rights Museum opened in 2014, and even Mississippi, given its history, opened the doors to their civil rights museum in 2017. There are museums dedicated to the Civil Rights Movement in Tennessee (National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis), Alabama (Birmingham Civil Rights Institute), and Georgia (National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta).
Speaking at the ribbon-cutting, former New Orleans Mayor Sidney Barthelemy, said its opening comes at an important moment. Barthelemy noted that “we are living in a dangerous time” where people and politicians are looking to erase the history and contributions of Black people in this country.
Bajoie said the museum is important for preserving the accuracy of what transpired during the Civil Rights Movement and the impact it had on the Black community.
“If you don’t tell your story, somebody else will,” Bajoie said. “We want to make sure that we tell our own stories.”
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