DALLAS – For Emma Rodgers and Ann Ervin the cutting of the ribbon and the opening of doors of the Martin Luther King Jr. Museum in Dallas was the fulfillment of a dream.
Though Rodgers, Ervin and others civil right journeys took different paths, now each story has come together and all can now be shared with youth in one place for generations to come.
“Many kids don’t know Black history and many parents don’t know either,” Rodgers said. “We are in a struggle to save our future because we do not want history to repeat itself.”
Rodgers and Ervin were part of the leadership team that helped create the museum
“Our goal is to keep Black history and the history of the Civil Rights Movement alive and fresh in the minds of our young people,” she said. “This museum serves as a beacon and a lighthouse and my hope is that it will motivate us to push forward as a people towards making quality of life improvements for all.”
The Civil Rights Movement was a group of social movements across the United States. The goal of the movement from 1954 to 1968 was to end racial segregation and discrimination against Black Americans. It was characterized by campaigns of civil resistance, nonviolence and civil disobedience and produced leaders like Martin Luther King Jr.
The Dallas Museum houses a collection of speeches, books, spoken word, art, and artifacts relevant to the life and times of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It is an effort to inspire people to discover and reconnect with the power of the Civil Rights Movement in America.
Other displays relevant to the museum are artwork by Frank Frazier and other works that follows the civil rights struggle through books, art, artifacts and interactive screens. Kiosks also feature videos and graphics about King and his endeavors toward freedom for all
There is also emphasis on many other figures who helped make the civil rights struggle in America successful.
One of the most significant things about the new museum is how different it is because of its overall focus. It does center around the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but has a much larger focus than just the achievements of King alone.
“We seek to bring the history to life about untold people and events of the movement that are little known or talked about,” she said. “It is important to educate our people about them because we also stand today on their shoulders.”
Both Rodgers and Ervin don’t just talk civil rights. Each is no stranger to the Civil Rights Movement and has a unique story to tell about their place in the movement.
For Rodgers, her contributions date back to a time when Blacks could not eat at lunch counters or go into hotels in Georgia. She was a student at the time with activist Ruby Doris Smith at Spelman College in Atlanta. Smith later became the Executive Secretary of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
“I got a lot of energy working with her,” she said. “We were on the entry level line of protesters who would go into those places, do the boycotts or go in and close the places down.”
She said it was a challenge and she did not know the real dangers, but understood that someone had to stand up for the rights of Black people.
Ervin grew up in Waco, Texas at the time when segregation was in effect and witnessed how it impacted her parents and Blacks living in Texas at the time. She remembers the separate bathroom facilities, water fountains and separate school and recreational activities between the races.
“I lived it and saw the emotional bruises and scars of racism,” she said. “It upsets me what it did to my parents, my family and my church as we were constantly reminded by the community around us that we were not equal.”
She later moved to California and experienced the fight for civil rights via those doing “freedom marches” and “freedom rides”.
In 1961, a new tactic aimed at desegregating public transportation throughout the south.
The first Freedom Ride took place on May 4, 1961 when seven blacks and six whites left Washington, D.C., on two public buses bound for the Deep South. In the south, some were savagely attacked by mobs of Whites and the police. The extreme violence and the indifference of local police prompted a national outcry of support for the riders, putting pressure on President Kennedy to end the violence.
“It was the power of the people working together for change that made the difference,” Ervin said. “I saw how the energy and power of this movement transformed groups of people in many areas.”
Both were quick to stress that the museum is an education tool to boost what is not being taught in history classes in public schools.
Ervin said she hopes to encourage schools to schedule civil rights day activities that will promote opportunities for children to build on their knowledge of history being taught in schools.
“So much of history has been missed, skipped or diluted,” she said. “We hope the museum will be a supplement to what is not being taught or learned in school settings.”
Each month, the museum will feature a monthly focus on significant people and events in civil rights history and teach how their work and sacrifices made a difference.
Some upcoming topics include the history of Colfax, Louisiana, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, Juneteenth, the Freedom Rider Bus Tour and Caesar Chavez.
“Our goal is to prepare the next generation by planting seeds and encouraging these youth to be responsible with their history,” Rodgers said. “We do not want another generation to be ignorant of their history or the sacrifices. We do not want things to go backwards.”
According to Rodgers and Ervin, the museum’s broader scope also includes reaching out not only to African-Americans, but also to Hispanics.
Hispanics are fighting their own form of civil rights trying to get the United States to develop friendlier immigration policies and do away with harassing I.C.E. raids and deportations of Mexicans and other Hispanics currently living here.
It also is an information station for insights on dealing with the current civil rights issues plaguing people today. Some of those issues include fair and equal access to housing and jobs, the Voter Photo I.D., voter suppression and disenfranchisement and voting rights.
“Without knowledge, the people perish,” Ervin said. “The sacrifices of many allowed me the opportunity to do the things I have done and this is my chance to give back and help prepare the next generation of freedom fighters to do the same.”
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Museum is be open by appointment only on Tuesday-Friday. The museum is located in Building A of the Martin Luther King Center at 2922 Martin Luther King Boulevard.
To make a reservation for a free tour or to donate civil rights artifacts or record a civil rights oral history:
call 214.670.8418 or go to