John Lewis will donate Civil Rights mementos to new African American history museum

WASHINGTON -- Excitement is building for the grand opening of Smithsonian's African American History and Culture museum here in the nation's capital, but before President Barack Obama cuts the ribbon on Sept. 24 we're starting to hear about some Georgia items will be in the collection.

What won't be there? Any major mementos from Martin Luther King Jr.

What will be? A segregated railway car circa 1920 that serviced routes in Georgia and other southern states.

Civil rights hero and longtime Atlanta congressman John Lewis, who was the museum's biggest booster on Capitol Hill over the last 28 years (more on that later this week), has also been asked to donate some of his keepsakes. In a recent interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV, the Democrat revealed he's giving the Smithsonian a pair of slave shackles given to him by an Alabama farmer and potentially the pen President Lyndon Johnson gave him when he signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

There's also a third Lewis item with a back story that could end up at the museum. He explains:

"Many, many years ago Dr. King gave me a signed copy of his first book called 'Stride Toward Freedom,' and I went on a trip in 1964 and left the book in my office. The book was gone. About 50 years later the book returned and apparently somebody liberated it and took it to another state, another town. I think I’m going to give that book away," he said. 

“It will be hard to part with it," Lewis added. “But I think it belongs.”

We'll have more to tell you later today after the press gets the chance to walk through the museum. We'll be broadcasting live this afternoon on the AJC's Georgia Politics News Facebook page, so check back with us.

We've been hearing that busloads of Georgians will beheading up to D.C. for the grand opening on the 24th and events around town.

In addition to Lewis and President Obama, Braves baseball legend Hank Aaron told us he'll be there for the ribbon cutting (he was a member of the museum's board).

Morehouse College's alumni association will also be holding an event in D.C. on the 23rd that's expected to draw Aaron, Rev. Otis Moss Jr., Martin Luther King III and Michael Lomax, CEO of the United Negro College Fund.

Here's more info on what to expect opening weekend and how to get tickets to the museum. 

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that...