New NCRM leader shares vision for Memphis national treasure - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

New NCRM leader shares vision for Memphis national treasure

National Civil Rights Museum (Source: WMC Action News 5) National Civil Rights Museum (Source: WMC Action News 5)

A powerful force arrived in Memphis, and she intends to help America see the “national treasure” shining at 450 Mulberry Street.

That’s the address of the National Civil Rights Museum, where a new boss means business.

“I didn’t move from Howard County, Maryland, frankly to manage a museum,” Terri Lee Freeman told the Memphis Rotary Club. “I came here to help move the museum and move the discussion our country needs to have.”

Freeman spoke to Memphis Rotary just three days after the funeral of Memphis Judge D’Army Bailey, one of the NCRM’s key founders. Freeman said 1,200 mourners attended the six hour visitation for Judge Bailey at the museum Friday, July 17.

The next day, former President Bill Clinton eulogized Bailey at his funeral at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church. Clinton called the NCRM “a national treasure,” during his 20-minute eulogy,

“Now you have to decide what to do with it,” Freeman told Rotarians. “It seemed like Bill Clinton was speaking directly to me. He talked about what has to happen next, what we must do to make the NCRM a national entity, not just for Memphis, but for the National Civil Rights Museum.”

Freeman said that is the mission she was hired to accomplish in November, when she left her position of President of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region (a philanthropic organization that aspires to serve people in the Washington, D.C. area) after 18 years.

Freeman assumed her new role, which includes responsibility for the hallowed grounds where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, amid a tumultuous and bloody year in American race relations.

From Ferguson, Missouri, to Charleston, South Carolina, the nation has watched one episode of violence after another, reopening painful wounds around race relations.

In his eulogy for D’Army Bailey, President Clinton mourned the recent violence with racial overtones and said, “Institutions are only useful to the extent you can use them to make change.”

Freeman said that line was a call to action.

“How do we use the history that is housed in the museum to challenge people today and move forward into tomorrow?” she asked the Rotary audience. “I’m keen on it becoming a platform for public dialogue.”

The new president envisions the NCRM as a “safe space” where Americans can have challenging conversations about race and the changes that need to be made.

“Hate is a real thing and we need to deal with it and get rid of it," Freeman said.

The new civil rights museum leader said young people are the key to progress.

“It is my hope that I will truly quantify the impact the National Civil Rights Museum has had on those youth organizers, those young people who are trying to make change, create change, stimulate action, and continue to move the community forward.”

To that end, Freeman aims to place the NCRM in the heart of the current questions about educational equity.

“Memphis seems to be ground zero of education reform,” she said.

Another key focus for the new leader will be “economic mobility.”

“If people are born in a zip code and die (in the same) zip code and don’t have a chance to make a better life for themselves, you get all sorts of dysfunction,” Freeman said. “We have to make sure there are mobility options for people to move up the ladder and have the experience of America that all of us have had the ability to experience.”

Finally, Freeman says the NCRM will be about civic engagement.

Observing the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, the museum will produce a voter registration campaign and will host a debate among the top candidates for Memphis Mayor that will air live on WMC Action News 5 and on August 10th.

“My hope is, a year later we’ll invite back whoever is elected,” Freeman told the Rotarians. "We’re going to have a town hall, and we’ll go over a list of things they said they were going to do and we’ll see how well they did. That’s civic engagement.”

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