Little-known aspects of SCLC history on display at Emory

If you go:

“And the Struggle Continues: The Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Fight for Social Change”

Runs through Dec. 1

Cost: Free

Emory University’s Robert W. Woodruff Library, Level 3

540 Asbury Circle

Amid the scores of photographs in an exhibit chronicling the history of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference are two that — at first glance — don’t seem to fit.

The black-and-white photographs are of small children in Vietnam.

That’s the beauty of the exhibit, “And the Struggle Continues: The Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Fight for Social Change,” at Emory University’s Robert W. Woodruff Library, said Sarah Quigley, co-curator and a former SCLC project archivist.

The photos are displayed with a copy of a draft agreement between the SCLC and the government of Vietnam to establish an orphanage to help the children fathered by American troops.

“These are records that had never before been examined by scholars and tell a story about the SCLC that many people don’t know,” Quigley said.

It’s unfortunate, Quiqley said, that people know more about the SCLC’s work before the assassination of its co-founder, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968, than after.

“The overreaching message of the exhibition is what did the civil rights movement focus on once voting rights were legally recognized and once the visible enemy was gone,” she said. “How did the movement reorient itself when the work wasn’t done yet?”

Elisabeth Omilami, daughter of civil rights veterans Hosea and Juanita Williams, said her parents tried to adopt one of the children from Vietnam.

“The government took so long to get the paperwork together that the child died,” she said. “We lived with a picture of the baby on our living room wall.”

The exhibit, which opened Thursday and runs through Dec. 1, includes information about the SCLC’s fight against the oppressive system of apartheid in South Africa, its work for equal access to health care and jobs, and Ralph David Abernathy’s April 1969 letter from a Charleston jail after he was arrested during a hospital workers strike.

There’s a copy of King’s funeral program and information for a “Rappin’ For Our Future” amateur night that the SCLC organized in an effort to reach a younger generation.

About 200 items are on display. They were culled from a larger SCLC archive held by Emory’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library. The collection was acquired in 2007 from the SCLC for an undisclosed price.

The exhibit covers the period from 1968 through 2007.

Charles Steele Jr., the CEO of the SCLC, said in a statement that the exhibit is a “resplendent reflection of our rich and robust history.”

“It salutes our storied and stellar past,” Steele said, “while providing information for today and tomorrow.”

Among the early viewers of the exhibit was Angela Hopewell of Union City, who was taking a campus tour with her children and father-in-law.

Said Hopewell, “This is part of our history and a great opportunity to expose them to something they otherwise might not see in the history books at school.”

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