Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Our Civil Rights Museum (part 2) "An idea"!

     "This is our museum, meaning the entire community's museum.  It doesn't belong to me.  It doesn't belong to the board; it belongs to really, the world".  Skip Alston, February 18, 2015 (Fox8 news interview).

     I agree Mr. Alston.  I also agree that you and Earl Jones deserve to be recognized and credited with preserving the Woolworth's site.  I believe that most historians would agree that the most important event in United States history relevant to the civil rights movement would be the Emancipation Proclamation.  Under the category "next step" would reside such events as Rosa Parks bus ride and certainly the Greensboro Four.  The Greensboro Woolworth's sit ins were the first of its' kind and sparked a phenomenon throughout the south.  This occurred four years prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and was a precursor leading to these two pieces of legislation.  The Greensboro Sit Ins were one of the most significant events of the 20th century and in our nation's history.
     Not "Greensboro's" history, the nation's history.  I know this because as I walked into the Smithsonian Institute's American History Museum this past summer, I was able to see a section of the Woolworth's counter from Greensboro as soon as I entered the building; right up front.  Significant "local" events don't go into the Smithsonian.  But there was the lunch counter section in a building containing artifacts from our entire history that included inventions and events that modernized the world and changed our lives in this country forever.  It was front and center in a museum that was in a group of museums containing all of the nation's sacred documents and memorials.  The Greensboro Four made national history.
     When considered in this light the Civil Rights Museum must be preserved.  Under its' current organizational structure it is doomed to financial failure.  Throwing more money at the museum and not changing the business structure is not going to work any better than it has.  The museum needs significant change.  Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughn suggested back in 2014 that the City of Greensboro take over the operation of the museum.  I believe this should happen immediately.
    It is important to understand what the Civil Rights Museum is.  It is not large.  It does not take more than a day to see.  It is not an attraction that is going to generate repeat business such as a larger tourist attraction would.  It is an important educational tool and should be made accessible to all schools.  Currently the museum charges $12 for an adult ticket, $10 for senior citizens 65 and over, $10 for students and $8 for youths 6-12 years of age.  This museum does not receive enough donations to operate due to several reasons to sustain operations.  The tickets are too expensive and the dignity of the museum has been compromised by a rental program.  Many people in the community consider the "founders" Mr. Alston and Mr. Jones as polarizing figures and refuse to visit because they are mistrustful of where the money is going.  Whatever the reasons the community has supported the idea but not the current implementation; the museum simply has not been held to the level of dignity that it deserves.
     The city should take over operations.  They can staff the museum for far less than the $77,000 plus salaries per employee they are paying now.  Entrance into the museum should be free for all students up to age 21 and for all citizens age 60 and above, those who lived through the civil rights movement as well as school desegregation.  The fee for adults should be reduced to a nominal fee. 
     Once in the city's possession their talented grant writers should apply for consideration to be designated as a National Historic Landmark and to be registered on the list of the National Registry of Historic Places.  I believe that the Woolworth's building qualifies under the United States Department of the Interior's qualifications to be designated as a National Historic Landmark.  A building can be considered if the quality of national significance is ascribed to buildings that possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of U.S. history, and that are (1) associated with events that have made a significant contribution to and are identified with or that outstandingly represent the broad national patterns of U.S. history and from which those patterns may be gained. (2) That represent some great idea or ideal of the American people.  I believe that the displaying of a section of the lunch counter in the Smithsonian speaks to the relevance in U.S. history.  Also, under properties that are normally excluded such as cemeteries, graves, etc, exclusion number 8 states that Landmark status can be bestowed if a property achieving national significance within the past 50 years if it is of extraordinary national importance.  It can easily be argued that the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s began in earnest at the Woolworth's lunch counter on February 1, 1960.  The Smithsonian apparently to at least some extent agrees.
     Designation as a National Landmark provides opportunities for federal grants for operation as well as funding designated specifically for the upkeep and preservation of the site itself.  State funding is also available for Historic Landmarks through the State Historic Preservation's grants.  There are only a little more than 2500 National Historic Landmarks recognized in the United States, only 38 in North Carolina.  It is a very prestigious designation, one that is befitting of what took place and the changes brought about.
     The National Registry assists in listing the site on national tour maps and lists of places to see.  Obtaining this designation would assist the museum in acquiring further funds from private donations and add credibility when approaching potential donors.  Currently there are 85,104 locations listed in the National Registry.
     By law the Department of Interior is required to keep periodic checks on the operation and maintenance of the site.  This ensures that the dollars granted are being used in an appropriate manner and the structure is being maintained.  Designations can and have been revoked but having the city in charge of the museum should alleviate any problems with government requirements.
     The city should also involve our local colleges and universities.  Four of the five colleges in Greensboro offer History majors in their undergraduate curriculum.  All five have majors in Political Science and two have graduate programs in History and Political Science.  Internships should be offered providing a rotating collection of docents as well as historic assistance from professors.  Tours should be offered to Guilford County Schools history and civics classes for free with interns providing school lectures for teachers and their classes as part of their program.  The museum should not be "rented out" for meetings or functions.  As the city settles into the operation of the museum and the finances stabilize more programs can be introduced with the assistance of the college and universities as well as community advocates.  At the entrance or the exit should be a display crediting those who preserved the building. 
     The Greensboro Civil Rights Museum deserves to be elevated to its' level of national importance.  Remove local politics so that the museum can attain the national designation that will preserve it for generations to come.  Take Mr. Alston at his word; "it really belongs to the world".                  


  1. I love your ideas, Marc! It is a no brainer that it should have landmark status. I wonder why Skip and Earl haven't thought of it, I guess it goes back to the brain, lol!

    1. Im sure theyve thought of it. They dont want the oversight that comes with it.