Lack of patrons a lot to overcome for civil rights museum - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Lack of patrons a lot to overcome for civil rights museum

Albany - When Martin Luther King Jr. spoke inside Mount Zion Church, Albany was already an early part of the civil rights movement.

Today, the small church is a museum and historical landmark.

Inside, it's more like a makeshift museum as pictures on the walls walk visitors through important parts of the city's history.

"It's not designed as a museum," said ATI President Thomas C. Chatmon Jr. "It really doesn't have adequate space, curitorial space, storage space or exhibit space."

It will be when the museum is expanded in the next two years. But right now... it has little financial support, so the board has made cuts... and that included the museum's director.

Mirma Johnson was released in December... a decision she says she understands... and a decision board members say was painful to make.

"Because we had to cut back in order to move forward and to make some strategic plans," Johnson said.

The ATI President says: "She has an expertise that I believe no one else in Southwest Georgia has and we need to remain associated with that expertise."

Like many museums, this one struggles to attract visitors.

"Once a visitor has been here once or twice, they really have little motiviation to come back any more because the exhibits have not changed and because of lack of depth and breadth of the exhibits," Chatmon said.

And the small space doesn't leave room to tell stories that aren't told here now.

"A lot of things happened in Baker and Terrell that need to be told," Johnson said.

That will happen when it becomes the Civil Rights Movement Museum of South Georgia.

"We want to be inclusive of all of South Georgia and its history and to give people something to come in and see and do and experience," Johnson said.

An experience that tells all the stories that made these moments a cornerstone of the movement.

"And what the impact of the movement here in Albany had when they moved on," Johnson said. "Civil rights is not just black history. It's an American history and it's part of our culture and our history."

Mirma Johnson does still act as a consultant for the museum and volunteers with certain programs. And although she was dismissed, the board kept two part-time staff members.

As far as the expansion is concerned... $3.75 million will be spent on a 14-thousand square foot addition to the current historical site.

Posted by brannon.stewart@walb.com

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