President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965, in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol, but the events that led to that legislation began in church basements, community centers, living rooms, and along dusty roads. The legislation—and the events surrounding it—is the subject of “Making Freedom’s Mark,” a new exhibit at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs’ Humphrey Forum museum.
“Making Freedom’s Mark” brings together documents, manuscripts, works of art, recordings, photographs, and artifacts from more than 30 museums, libraries, archives, courthouses and private collections representing the people and drama surrounding the voting rights movement. The exhibit focuses not only on the formal and traditional leadership of Congress and the White House, but also on the local leaders and grassroots organizations whose courage and commitment forced the nation to accept and endorse the concept of more aggressive federal protection of the right to vote.
“For those who joined the movement in Mississippi or Alabama or elsewhere, or who watched the events on television, we hope this exhibit will be a familiar and inspiring story,” said Steve Sandell, Humphrey Forum curator. “For others, who may be new to this history, we hope the exhibit will document the struggle, sacrifice, and commitment to dignity and democracy that were required to gain fundamental rights in this nation. It’s a legacy that Hubert Humphrey and others who worked for those ideals would hope we’d pursue and protect.”
Many of the artifacts and historical references revisit America’s division over voting rights, which led some to civic activism and others to violence.
With only six percent of African Americans registered to vote in the early 1960s, the State of Mississippi became a national battleground for the civil rights movement. Several photographs from the personal collections of the men and women who traveled to Mississippi for voter registration work during that time are featured in the exhibit. Also on view are personal diaries from the teachers and students who in 1964 joined Freedom Schools, a project to empower local African Americans to work for change.
Bringing the exhibit full circle are several banners and signs recently carried in the Voting Rights March, held August 6, 2005 in Atlanta, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the legislation.
“Making Freedom’s Mark” opened at the Humphrey Forum on September 23, 2005 and will run through March, 15, 2006. The Forum is located at 301 19th Ave. S. Minneapolis. The museum is open to the public weekdays from 9 am to 5 pm and, during the exhibit, on Saturdays from 10 am to 2 pm. For more information, contact Steve Sandell at 612-624-5893 or Jamie Proulx, Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, 612-625-9436.