By Terri Lee Freeman, Museum President
Last week, the Museum had the opportunity to play a small role in the home going service for our last living founder, D’Army Bailey. On Friday, July 17, five days following his transition, his body laid-in-state at the National Civil Rights Museum, the institution he fought to ensure came to fruition. On the following Saturday, Judge Bailey was eulogized by former President William Jefferson Clinton. As I sat just behind the family of Judge Bailey, and listened to the eulogy, I felt as though President Clinton was presenting a charge to both the Museum and to me personally.
Though I had never had the pleasure of meeting Judge Bailey, his reputation preceded him. His name was always followed by a description of his tenacity around those things in which he believed. While some saw that doggedness as a positive, others viewed him as being antagonistic. But what all seem to agree is that his ability to stick to his convictions and push forward his agenda always MOVED people. His movement of ideas, convictions, projects and justice was central to his being. And it was not lost on those that knew him, because the theme of his home going was MOVING!
As President Clinton and other family, friends and colleagues spoke of Judge Bailey, they spoke of his love for the National Civil Rights Museum, but it was the words of President Clinton which spoke most centrally to me. “He believed everything should have a moving purpose, including this museum. He left you and America a national treasure,” said Clinton. “He left a monument that will have to be moved, not physically, but internally.” As I listened to his words, I thought of the recent physical renovation of the building. Both the internal transformation of the exhibits and the freshening of the external façade of the Museum campus. And then I was “moved” to think about the internal shifts and changes occurring at the museum – new leadership and staff, new challenges, new opportunities.
But it was one of President Clinton’s closing quotes that literally gave me goosebumps. He said, “Institutions are only as useful to the extent that you can use them to make change.” This one statement implied required “movement”, responsibility and expectation. The National Civil Rights Museum must be an active participant in creating positive change by opening the doors to dialogue and providing facts and truth about the civil and human rights challenges of the past AND those still occurring today. We can’t be a static institution, but must be one that dynamically reaches out to our guests and communities with information about what is and what can be. And our friends and visitors should be expectant about the positive contribution the Museum will make on the local community and national landscape.
April 2, 2014 - D'Army Bailey, founder of the National Civil Rights Museum, stands in front of a sign at the Lorraine Motel on Wednesday morning. Bailey, 73, died on Sunday, July 12, 2015, after a battle with cancer. (Yalonda M. James/The Commercial Appeal)
The “monument” has been established, now let us begin moving in a way that honors history, examines today, provokes thought and inspires action – let’s MOVE!
Coincidentally, the theme of our 2014 annual report is “Moving”. So we get it!