Civil Rights through the Lens of Women

Posted at 5:43 PM, Feb 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-27 19:43:07-05

What most people know about the civil rights movement is limited to only a few well-known stories.

Mike Glenn wants to change that.

Glenn, a collector and former NBA player, documents African-American history through his collection of rare books, newspapers and magazines. In January, Glenn opened his exhibit “Expanding Civil Rights: Women of the Movement” in Decatur, GA.

In what he describes as a “literary and pictorial exhibit of artifacts and publications of historical and present significance,” Glenn shifts the focus from male civil rights icons to their female counterparts who were integral in advancing human and civil rights.

With over 100 pieces, the exhibit shows Myrlie Evers, Linda Brown, Shirley Chisholm and other women in first edition publications that have become time capsules for their place in history.

Anna Murray Douglass, wife of Frederick Douglass, had her legacy set in stone after a school in Rochester, NY was renamed in her honor in 2018. Glenn’s exhibit included an article from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle covering the Anna Murray Douglass Academy.

Nettie Washington Douglass, Anna and Frederick’s great-great granddaughter, was at the opening of the exhibit to see it. According to Nettie, Anna never learned to read or write, but was the catalyst in Frederick’s escape from slavery.

“It’s amazing that she would be recognized with her name on a school. If it was not for Anna Murray paying Frederick Douglass’ ticket to escape slavery, I would not be here standing telling this story,” Douglass said.

For Elizabeth Wilson, Decatur’s first female and first African-American mayor, the exhibit gives young people a more insightful way to look at the civil rights movement.

“There is so much history that the young people need to know about. More than just Dr. King and a few of the other high-profile people. There are people in this exhibit that I’ve noticed that need to be remembered for what they’ve done,” said Wilson.

Pellom McDaniels, curator of African-American Collections at Emory’s Stuart A. Rose Library, sees Glenn’s collection as a hands-on lesson on black history, life and culture.

“The material aspect of the collection is important for most people, but especially kids to see because most of the things we see related to civil rights is online. So, it’s not really real, but these kinds of materials are more tangible. You can see that history coming alive in a different way,” McDaniels said.

Glenn’s earliest piece shows Dred Scott, his wife and daughters on the front page of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper in 1857. In a landmark case, Scott sued for his family’s freedom and his own and lost. Significant milestones in civil rights were met since Scott’s trial 162 years ago, but Glenn believes the fight for human and civil rights is far from over.

“So why are these battles still being fought?” Glenn asked.

“What lessons can we learn to move on beyond civil rights for everyone? I want this [exhibit] to be an intellectual, academic study and some way to look back at history and decide a better way forward.”