KIPP student Sabrina Estudillo stared closely at the Jim Crow documents underneath the protective glass at Atlanta’s Martin Luther King Jr. Center. The center not only houses information and historical artifacts related to Dr. King but also those pertaining to other black history in Atlanta.
Sabrina, 14, was so close that her nose almost touched the glass. She knew what Jim Crow was but had never seem real documents specifying what blacks could and could not do during the early civil rights era. Some of the other students were unaware of what Jim Crow was all about.
After the end of the civil war in 1865, Congress was ready to begin Reconstruction, a series of laws meant to rebuild the south and transition blacks into a free society they had been locked out of. Several circumstances derailed the effort, including the opposition from Abraham Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, after his assasination.
Johnson, a southern sympathizer, vetoed most the Reconstruction programs. Southern state legislatures, now feeling emboldened, instituted “Black Codes” and “Jim Crow” laws restricting the freedom of blacks. The laws included such egregious acts making it illegal for too many blacks to stand in one place for too long.
“The Jim Crow laws — the actual documents — it looked so authentic,” said Sabrina.
The term Jim Crow dates back earlier. “Jump Jim Crow” was a minstrel act performed by white performers in black face, portraying blacks as simple-minded and slow.
The King Center had other powerful exhibits. In one gallery, the actual cart that carried Dr. King’s casket stood on display. The reef that draped the top of the horse-drawn cart was also on display.
Some of the students left the center to tour Dr. King’s childhood home, which is located nearby.
Michael Blair, 14, toured the home. He was struck by King’s family and upbringing. He learned that a young Martin Luther King and his brother would sometimes get into trouble. Some people, including Blair, probably have a hard to imagining one of the civil rights movement’s greatest leader running around as kid causing havoc. Michael, however, could relate.
“Me and my brother, even though he’s older than I am, we sometimes get into trouble,” said Michael.
The students also toured the Jimmy Carter Center, which honors the accomplishments of the former president.
Next stop for the group –Underground Atlanta.