Friday, February 22, 2008

Civil Rights Museum Board Names New Members at Contentious Meeting

Posted By on Fri, Feb 22, 2008 at 4:00 AM

The National Civil Rights Museum board of directors announced eight new members at a public meeting Thursday evening to an audience of 50, including museum founders Chuck Scruggs and D'Army Bailey, and local activist Deke Pope.

The board has been criticized lately for favoring corporate-linked membership over members with civil rights movement experience. The Lorraine Civil Rights Museum Community Oversight Committee, a grassroots group unaffiliated with the museum, offered numerous nominations of its own. Meanwhile, the state of Tennessee -- the museum owner -- included board membership guidelines in the recent lease agreement with the museum board.

The state mandated a 60 percent African-American membership, which the board met with its new nominees, as well as representation from a number of specific categories.

The eight new members: State representative Johnny Shaw from Hardeman County fulfills the state legislator requirement; local director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Dorothy Crook represents labor; former Martin Luther King Jr. speech-writer 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 nominees include FedEx Senior Vice President Cathy Ross and pastor Gina Stewart.

Following the meeting, the board opened the floor to public feedback for 20 minutes, with two minutes alloted per speaker. A number of civil rights movement foot soldiers came forward with prayers and calls to support the museum and its mission despite the outside criticism. "There was innocent blood shed in this city," Dr. Jerry Jones declared, "and it has got to be paid for. It's not going to be paid for with people playing games," he said, in reference to the controversy.

Charles Todd, a former critic of the board's make-up said that the public should look into the work of the museum before passing judgment. "I don't think it's y'all's fault," he told the board members. "A lot of it is our fault as a community. We did not know how this museum worked. A lot of times, when you start talking with each other, you can get some things done. If I can do anything to volunteer and help this organization I would be glad to do so."

"I think it's time for this city to come together," said Robert Harris, longtime local minister and former civil rights marcher, "with the same mind and the same goals. Until we do that, I don't think anything will be accomplished."

Former NCRM 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."

Laurice Smith, the chairperson of the Lorraine Civil Rights Museum Oversight Committee, ran well over her allotted time-period while criticizing the museum board's reluctance to clear its nominations with the oversight committee.

Board member Maxine Smith (no relation), 79-year-old former NAACP executive director and decorated civil rights veteran, clarified the fact that the state lease makes no stipulation for the board negotiating or communicating with any other body in its internal business.

The meeting adjourned, though a protester approached the board members shouting "This is class-ism," while another local activist loudly attempted to address the meeting as it dispersed.

--Preston Lauterbach

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