CNN Black History Month

Coretta Scott King

Civil rights exhibit brings history to life

February 26, 1996
Web posted at: 12:45 a.m. EST

From Correspondent Jim Hill

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- An exhibit exploring the civil rights movement is bringing a period of history centered in the American South to the West Coast.

The exhibit, assembled by the Watts Labor Community Action Committee, a group formed after the Watts riots of 1965, is more than a photographic journey through the civil rights movement. It is designed to give visitors the actual feel of the period.

Jail cell

A model jail cell is patterned after the one in Alabama where Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." The exhibit also includes a replica of a segregated lunch counter where protesters sat, only to be arrested. A rendition of a dirt road in Mississippi and a car takes visitors to June 21,1964 and the brutal experience of three- civil rights workers.

"These three gentlemen came up missing," exhibit guide Janine Watkins explained. Their bodies were later found in an earthen dam.


Some children who have visited the exhibit were born long after King's assassination in 1968. But rare photos like the faces of King's children at their father's funeral, bring history alive.

"As an African-American male, as a humane person, as an orator and a visionary, (King) stood strong, he spoke eloquently and he told his vision," said Watkins.

"As I was walking, I was thinking that I was really going back in time to Mississippi seeing how it was," remarked one visitor.

King's coffin

"People begin to become physically involved," Watkins said explaining common reactions to the exhibit. "They see the visuals in regards to the movement, what took place, the struggles the injustice that took place and it forces them to see reality."

Reality like a noose hanging from a tree, a reminder of the lynchings that were all too common in a bygone era.

"It really touched me because I have relatives that grew up in Mississippi," said another visitor. "My father's from there, and I've heard stories of relatives that have been lynched, but it never sunk in."

Organizers of the exhibit hope the lasting impression is not only the lessons of the past but the work that must continue in the future.



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