10/24/2005

Thousands Celebrate Opening of Civil Rights Memorial Center

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Thousands gathered here yesterday to celebrate the dedication of the new Civil Rights Memorial Center and the Wall of Tolerance housed in it.

"Fifty years ago, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat just a few blocks away from where we are today," said Center co-founder Morris Dees in his welcoming remarks. "You've come from throughout the United States to be a part of the march that she started.

"Your placement of your name of the Wall of Tolerance shows the march for justice continues," he said.

In 1989, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) dedicated the Civil Rights Memorial. Designed by Maya Lin, the black granite monument honors those who died in the Civil Rights Movement and chronicles the history they propelled. The Memorial's flowing water connects the past with the unfinished dream of justice for all.

The Civil Rights Memorial Center (CRMC) allows visitors to deepen their understanding of the Movement, the sacrifices of the period and the struggles that lie ahead. The facility contains a classroom where students are challenged to consider their personal responsibility to work for justice.

Before leaving the CRMC, visitors can make a public commitment to ideals of the Civil Rights Movement by pledging to work for justice in their daily lives and adding their name to the Wall of Tolerance.

Greeting the crowd, gathered yesterday under bright sunshine and a brilliant blue sky, was Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright. "It is a distinct privilege to be here to see this fine facility in the city of Montgomery. It will educate many people in the years to come," he said.

NAACP chairman Julian Bond, greeted with a standing ovation as he was introduced, served as host for the dedication ceremony. He described his longtime relationship with the SPLC — he was its first president and serves on its board of directors today — and praised those who contribute to its work.

"Without your support, the new Civil Rights Memorial Center and the work of the Southern Poverty Law Centers would not be possible," Bond said.

Jerry Mitchell, a reporter for The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger, said the Memorial, in chronicling the deaths of 40 martyrs, became an instrument of justice. "The Memorial and the [SPLC] book Free At Last became a roadmap for me to begin my journey into the investigation of the Civil Rights Movement murders," he said.

Mitchell's investigative reports led to the convictions of at least six killers who had walked free for years.

"The Memorial and that book helped ensure those killers would not go unpunished," he said.

"This event is about honoring heroes," said U. S. Congressman Artur Davis (D-Ala,), who was the dedication's keynote speaker. Davis, a lawyer, began his career in 1992 as a SPLC intern.

"It has been the lot of our country that the bravest of us have laid down their lives, some anonymously, some in full view of the world," Davis said. "All share courage and are heroes. That's what we honor today."

He urged everyone to consider "the enduring power of people who are willing to take a stand."

"Each of us is a ripple, and together we are all a mighty stream," said Bond in his closing remarks.