In front of an audience that included museum founders Chuck Scruggs and D'Army Bailey, the National Civil Rights Museum board of directors announced eight new board members at a meeting last week.
The board has been criticized for privileging corporate membership over community activists with experience in the civil rights movement. In November of last year, the state of Tennessee — the museum's owner — included board membership guidelines in its new lease agreement with the museum board.
Under that agreement, the state mandated that 60 percent of board members be African-American and that the board represent a number of specific special interests. State representative Johnny Shaw from Hardeman County represents the state legislature; local director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Dorothy Crook represents labor; former Martin Luther King Jr. speechwriter Clarence Jones represents civil rights scholarship; while Urban Child Institute member Kenya Bradshaw, Southern Christian Leadership Conference president Dwight Montgomery, and Crichton College's Darryl Tukufu represent civil rights and community activists. Additional new members include FedEx Express senior vice president Cathy Ross and pastor Gina Stewart.
Following the meeting, the board opened the floor for 20 minutes of public feedback, with two minutes per speaker. A number of civil rights foot soldiers came forward with prayers and calls to support the museum and its mission despite the outside criticism.
"I think it's time for this city to come together," said longtime local minister and former civil rights marcher Robert Harris, "with the same mind and the same goals. Until we do that, I don't think anything will be accomplished."
Former museum marketing director Judith Black added, "So much of the publicity about this place is negative. It's hard to get the positive word out if you're having to fight the negative."
As the meeting adjourned, however, a protester approached the board members, shouting "This is class-ism." Another local activist loudly attempted to address the departing members.
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