Recently, I was honored to attend the opening ceremony for "Voices of the Civil Rights Movement," the newest exhibit at the National Civil Rights Museum (NCRM) in Memphis.
There were many recognizable faces in the crowd, but less obvious were the stories of some of the attendees. Important stories from the Civil Rights Movement, such as those by State Representative Johnnie Turner, a young woman growing up on the edge of the white part of town and tormented on a daily basis by a moody bus driver; and Elmore Nickelberry, a sanitation worker with the City and participant in the labor strikes that would ultimately bring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Memphis for what would be his last demonstration.
And we were seated not far from the balcony where Reverend Billy Kyles watched the scenery of that fateful day in 1968 unfold. It was the Lorraine Motel, and today, it serves as a constant reminder of the sacrifices made, and the need for the continued momentum of the Civil Rights Movement as the site of the NCRM.
My father, D’Army Bailey, was a big part of that through his early work as a lawyer and activist, his work in founding the NCRM and his vital role in working with Comcast on the creation of "Voices."
Justin Bailey (right) with his father and civil rights activist, D’Army Bailey
Three years ago, he reached out to Comcast after interviewing with them about his experiences from the Civil Rights Movement. He believed that the collection of interviews they were assembling needed more historical context. As a judge, city councilman, activist, author, lecturer and actor, my dad experienced a lot in his lifetime. He encouraged the team to include in the project milestone events, such as the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four black girls in 1963 in Alabama and the Little Rock school closings in 1958. To help do this, he introduced the project to the Equal Justice Initiative, and, out of this collaboration, the full "Voices of the Civil Rights Movement" was born.
"Voices" is truly something special. It’s a collection of interviews with key civil rights leaders, along with 52 historical narratives hosted by my father. First made available at VoicesOfTheCivilRightsMovement.com, the full library of material can also now be watched by the hundreds of thousands of tourists, families, students and more passing through the Newseum in Washington D.C. and at the NCRM — a fully interactive and important educational resource for a new generation.
The following video goes back to March 7th, 1965, a date often referred to as Bloody Sunday. Hundreds of protesters were met and assaulted by armed state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL.
I think it’s fair to say my dad’s hope was that this exhibit would bring awareness to civil rights issues, inspire people to submit their own stories online, and encourage students and others to visit the NCRM. In the foreword to his book, "The Education of a Black Radical," Nikki Giovanni describes my dad as a "strong, uncompromising" voice. I think that’s apt. He believed we have to stay vigilant and mobilized. He believed we have to continue to educate future generations. He believed in the words of Dr. King: we need a "revolution of values" in America. I think the "Voices of the Civil Rights Movement" collection is a constant reminder of these ideas, and I’m proud to be a part of it and to help to continue carrying the message.
Check out the full collection of videos online at VoicesOfTheCivilRightsMovement.com.