AARP and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) today are unveiling a year-long, multi-faceted project to build the world's largest archive of first-hand accounts of the civil rights struggle in America, supported by an array of media ventures, exhibits and special events. The archive will ultimately be donated as a permanent collection of the Library of Congress.
"Americans have stories and we want to hear them, to collect them, and to archive them at the Library of Congress. For unless we remember, neither we nor future generations can understand," said AARP CEO Bill Novelli. "The archive is just the beginning of this powerful, far-reaching project."
LCCR Executive Director Wade Henderson stressed that the project will go beyond collecting stories of the Freedom Rides, lunch counter sit-ins, and the 1963 March on Washington to include the memories of those who worked – and continue to work – to stamp out discrimination against women, people with disabilities, Hispanics, and others.
"In the civil rights struggles of the '50s and '60s, those who fought to end segregation and promote racial equality showed us the way," Henderson said. "Those fighting for civil rights today can derive inspiration from the tens of thousands of Americans who peacefully confronted discrimination, intolerance and resistance."
A cornerstone of the project will be an online collection of previously untold personal stories of the quest for justice and equality. Voices of Civil Rights is also the inspiration for a book, television and radio programs, educational materials, public performances, commemorative publications, and more. The web site (www.voicesofcivilrights.org) officially launches in March with the online archive, articles on contemporary civil rights issues and activists, interactive features, project updates and more.
The project will move into high gear in May as the nation commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education ruling, which declared "separate but equal" schools to be unconstitutional. A book will be published entitled My Soul Looks Back in Wonder: Voices of the Civil Rights Experience by journalist Juan Williams, with a Foreword by David Halberstam and Afterword by Marian Wright Edelman. Voices of Civil Rights will be prominently featured in a six-month-long Library of Congress exhibit on Brown v. Board. Additional stories, features, interviews, and essays will appear in a special edition of AARP The Magazine, followed by coverage throughout the year in all AARP publications and radio programs as well as on the LCCR website (www.civilrights.org).
"The Library of Congress houses the most comprehensive civil rights collection in the country," said Librarian of Congress James Billington. "These rich and heavily used resources will be greatly enhanced by the addition of these important voices."
Throughout 2004, Voices of Civil Rights will continue to collect and preserve thousands of poignant memories of people who witnessed or took part in the civil rights struggle. From the heroic battles of African Americans to end racial segregation and discrimination in the1950s and '60s, to the struggles of women, people with disabilities, Hispanics, and many others, Voices of Civil Rights will capture memories that the nation cannot afford to forget.