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Sit Next To Rosa Parks

In 1991, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn., became America's first major museum to paint a broad picture of the civil rights movement. Its content hasn't changed much since then. But this Saturday after a nearly $28 million renovation that took 18 months, the museum will reopen with a new design that aims to appeal to an older generation as well as a post-civil-rights-era audience. About 200,000 people each year file into the courtyard of what was once the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. They gaze at the second-floor balcony where Martin Luther King Jr. stood before he was assassinated. That site marks the epicenter of a cultural earthquake. Executive director Beverly Robertson said it was time to take a fresh look at the civil rights movement through the eyes of the people who gave it life. "We recognize that it was the everyday regular old person who said, 'I'm going to take a stand for justice,' " she says. "And they stood up, and they spoke out and they made a difference." To inspire the conscience of a younger generation, the museum first had to find new ways of getting inside its head. More than 20 years ago, its founders covered the walls in text to make up for what they thought was missing from history books. But students today, with Internet access and shorter attention spans, were skipping past big chunks of history. "We had to blend history, technology, information boards, artifacts, audio, video to create what we believe is an engaging museum," Robertson says. The new exhibits immerse visitors in major chapters of the movement. They can sit at a segregated lunch counter, in a courtroom, or on a vintage city bus next to Rosa Parks. News reports and famous speeches fill the air with urgency. One highlight remains the same: the hotel room where King spent his final hours. For curators, the biggest challenge was relating all of this to a post-civil-rights-era audience. "For an older generation, the master narrative says that we are moving toward overcoming; for a younger generation, it is that we have overcome," says Dr. Hasan Jeffries, an associate professor of history at Ohio State University. #FullNewsAudioAvailable #NPR

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