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Terri Lee Freeman was appointed president of the National Civil Rights
Museum in November 2014. As president, Ms. Freeman is responsible for providing
strategic leadership in furthering the museum's mission as an educational and
cultural institution. Freeman has expanded the public programming of the museum
by focusing on contemporary civil and human rights issues such as criminal
justice, education, and basic human rights for marginalized populations. In
2018, Ms. Freeman created the "MLK50: Where Do We Go From Here?" to
commemorate the global impact of Dr. King's life's work and recognition of his
legacy 50 years after his assassination.
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On April 4, 1968 our world was forever
changed by a sniper’s bullet, killing the greatest peacemaker our nation had
ever seen – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
That night my very being was shook because for the first time, I saw the
strongest woman I knew cry, my mom.
While I was only 8 years old and too young to really understand the
meaning of this tragic event, it was clear that something major had to have occurred
to make my “rock” cry. Fast forward 50
years, I could have never imagined that I would be responsible for the
stewardship of the place where that event occurred.
It was that moment, in 1968 when the
National Civil Rights Museum became a possibility. And it was that moment, when little did I
know it, my life would be changed as well.
In November 2014 I accepted the role of President at the National Civil
Rights Museum. My first visit to the
Museum, I knew that serving in this role was a calling. I had a visceral response when I looked at
the balcony of the Lorraine, and the re-creation of the motel rooms where Dr.
King stayed during several of his visits to Memphis, Tennessee. As moved as I was by the power of the history
within these walls, I was fully aware of the relevance of this place in
November 2014 – two years after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the
murder of Trayvon Martin; four months after the suffocation of Eric Garner in
New York City; three months following the shooting of Michael Brown in
Ferguson, Missouri. The National Civil
Rights Museum could no longer simply be a place where history was
presented. It was critical that the
interpretation of that history be made real in the context of the issues of the
We are a new public square. A safe place (cliché’ but its true) for
people to be welcomed to have the conversations that have for too long gone
un-had. We use artifacts, art, thought
leaders, performance, film to help people understand the difficult history that
has made us (African Americans) the people we are and (the United States of
America) the country that it is. The Museum has also taken a proactive position
in introducing to many people the MLK they did not know. Understanding Dr. King’s passion, not simply
for equality, but also for equity and justice is key to how we interpret the
relevance of the mid-20th century civil rights movement to today’s
issues of economic equity, justice reform, fair housing/gentrification,
violence, and the increase in domestic terrorism and hate crime.
Our role is not unique. Today’s museums are living, breathing places
where the guests participate and contribute. But we have the power of our place; a place where history both happened and
The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the
authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Vice
President Biden, the Biden Institute or the University of Delaware.