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VOL. 128 | NO. 234 | Monday, December 2, 2013

Robertson to Retire National Civil Rights Museum Post

By Bill Dries

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Beverly Robertson, president of the National Civil Rights Museum for 16 of its 22 years, will guide the institution through its first major renovation that debuts in March and will retire from the museum’s leadership in July.

The National Civil Rights Museum's Lorraine Motel renovation is set to be completed next year. Museum President Beverly Robertson, who led the institution through the renovation, has announced she will retire in July.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

Robertson announced her retirement at the start of the Thanksgiving weekend.

Herb Hilliard, chairman of the museum’s board, said the board will conduct a national search for a new president.

The $27 million renovation of the museum and an endowment that was part of the same capital campaign are both high points that Robertson said she wanted to see through before leaving.

“Leaders know when it is time to step down and it’s my time,” Robertson said. “Everything has a season and I’ve had mine.”

With the renovation, the museum is also moving further into another season in which the demographics of its visitors continue to change.

Even when the museum opened in the summer of 1991, the demographics were pointing toward a growing segment of visitors who would have no first-hand memory of the civil rights movement of the 1960s chronicled in the museum.

What was state-of-the-art technology in the museum exhibits in 1991 had become technology that the museum couldn’t repair or replace by the time the renovation began. Repairs involved parts for technology that was no longer made.

The museum has also expanded its footprint in the South Main Historic Arts District during Robertson’s tenure, which has included the 2002 opening of the museum annex across Mulberry Street from the museum’s courtyard. The annex deals with the assassination including the many theories. It also leads visitors into what was once the South Main Street rooming house where James Earl Ray fired the shot that killed King on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.

The renovations to the museum exhibits to debut with a soft opening in late February will be more than an update of technology for the exhibits. The museum’s new exhibits will offer richer detail about slavery in America as well as the changes the movement underwent in the wake of King’s assassination in 1968.

The annex has remained open during the renovation with some exhibits from the main building transferred there temporarily. Visitors to the museum have also been able to walk on the balcony where King fell after being shot.

The museum’s annual Freedom Awards have also been streamlined during Robertson’s tenure to focus on the three prize winners. In the beginning of the awards, a conference that featured more than a dozen speakers in panel discussions on a wide range of topics were part of the events that have always included the public forum with the three award winners as well as the awards banquet.

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