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VOL. 129 | NO. 124 | Thursday, June 26, 2014

Civil Rights Museum Sit-In Exhibit Goes Digital

By Bill Dries

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Raumesh Akbari remembers her first encounter with the sit-in exhibit at the National Civil Rights Museum.

As a sixth-grader, she had heard and read about the lunch counter sit-ins of the early 1960s. But like many visitors to the museum, she was too young to have encountered them herself.

The recent renovations at the National Civil Rights Museum address visitors with a new way of processing the historical information. And now the museum is moving to digital versions of the information and exhibits that can be viewed from the museum’s website.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

Seeing the museum’s lunch counter with seated figures of the protestors and glowering, angry figures standing behind them brought home the meaning, as did films of the protestors training in nonviolent resistance and the violence they actually encountered.

“It really brought to life what I heard from grandparents and my aunts and uncles and what I read in books,” said Akbari, a state representative. “It made it real. We weren’t alive during that time, but it’s so important to learn from our past.”

That was 18 years ago, and today’s sixth-graders process such information differently.

So while the sit-in tableau remains, the museum’s recent $27 million renovation added more context and information about the sit-ins. It includes more about who the protestors were and the cities in which the sit-ins occurred. In addition, the museum’s digital information prompts visitors to think about the sit-ins as a solution to today’s injustices – thus the heading of the segment, “Standing Up By Sitting Down.”

This fall, the exhibit becomes the museum’s second to have a virtual counterpart through digital devices and social media that can be accessed by those who aren’t at the museum.

The first – the Montgomery bus boycott – is still available at the museum’s website, civilrightsmuseum.org, which will also feature the sit-in exhibit.

Those on the website will not only see the 1960s-era films that are the backdrop for the lunch counter set, they will also have access to the new touchscreen display that highlights cities where lunch counter sit-ins occurred – showing the spread of the protests and what happened in each city.

The creation of the learning platform is being funded with a $15,000 grant from the Verizon Foundation. Verizon employees in the South picked the museum from a list of several institutions during February Black History Month observances to receive the grant.

Adrian Douglas of Verizon said digital devices such as laptops and other mobile technology are a part of the difference in how adults and children learn.

“The animated format of the new program will allow visitors to choose whether they would like to learn by doing or seeing and hearing,” said Barbara Andrews, the museum’s director of education and interpretation. “Classrooms will be able to use it. You can merely go to the museum’s website and pull up that information.”

The museum’s renovation, which debuted in April, was able to incorporate more details and data about the reach and impact of the civil rights movement through such technology, allowing visitors to go as deep as they wish into the details of each segment. Behind the technology of touchscreens and the storage of much more information for a visitor to access is the use of civil rights movement historians and scholars who provided a deeper historical context for the museum.

The experience through the museum’s website is something the museum hopes to use again.

“Following that, we hope to be able to launch these platforms for e-learning experiences for many other exhibitions throughout the museum,” Andrews said.

Extending such experiences beyond a museum exhibit – or even an event in a specific place – is becoming more common.

Another example is The Orpheum Theatre’s July 10 screening of the movie “Clue” as part of its summer movie series.

On the theater’s Facebook page, fans of the movie and the board game will vote for one of several endings for the film.

The theater will also host a version of Twitter Clue in advance of the showing, with tickets to the movie as prizes.

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