Atlanta -- a city forever associated with the human struggle for equality -- today celebrated the opening of the Center for Civil and Human Rights in downtown’s Pemberton Place. Local leaders, including U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, U.S. Congressman John Lewis, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, spoke at the event.

The modern, 42,000-sq. ft. cultural institution will educate visitors on the link between the American Civil Rights Movement and contemporary Human Rights Movements around the world. Its four primary galleries, which include a continually rotating section of papers and items from The Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection, create an immersive experience through the combination of powerful imagery, compelling artifacts and interactive storytelling.

“The center uniquely and boldly connects historic freedom movements and iconic individuals, as well as everyday people, with the human rights issues of the present, thus sparking ongoing dialogue around the possibilities of the future,” said Doug Shipman, CEO, Center for Civil and Human Rights.

The brainchild of civil rights legends Evelyn Lowery and former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young, the center was launched by Franklin in 2007 and quickly gained broad-based corporate and community support. The facility was built on land donated by The Coca-Cola Company, next to the World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium.

Lisa Borders, chair, The Coca-Cola Foundation
Lisa Borders, chair, The Coca-Cola Foundation

Lisa Borders, chair of The Coca-Cola Foundation, explained how Coca-Cola leaders joined with Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus to build the two aforementioned attractions about a decade ago.

When they considered the potential uses of the remaining parcel in Pemberton Place -- which is named for Dr. John Pemberton, the Atlanta pharmacist who invented Coca-Cola in 1886 -- they decided it should “serve the highest-possible purpose for our city and further advance the causes of its proudest achievements and contributions to history.” 

Ultimately, the land was donated to the Center for Civil and Human Rights. Borders, who was the only representative from Atlanta's business community to speak at the opening, called today a historic moment.

“It’s been said that the struggle for human rights is a universal and an unending fight,” added Borders, whose grandfather, the Rev. William Holmes Borders, served more than 50 years as pastor of Wheat Street Baptist Church on Atlanta’s Auburn Avenue. His contributions are highlighted in the new center. 

“This is a story that must be told,” she concluded, “and there is no better city to tell it than Atlanta.”