Atlanta’s civil rights center gets its moment in the sun at Dems’ convention

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms helped kick off the fourth night of the DNC by paying tribute to the late John Lewis.

Mayor Bottoms chooses Center for Civil and Human Rights as backdrop for convention appearance

When Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms spoke by video at the virtual Democratic National Convention Thursday night she chose a recognizable Atlanta landmark as her setting.

During Thursday night’s events, Bottoms spoke on camera live, while standing in the lobby of downtown’s National Center for Civil and Human Rights.

As Bottoms introduced a video salute to Congressman John Lewis, she stood in front of the iconic “Open Hand” mural that dominates the center’s two-story atrium.

It was an appropriate choice.

Lewis’ story, from the Selma march in 1965 to his tenure as a U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th District, appears again and again in the exhibits and displays at the center. Lewis, who died last month, is central to the history of the American civil rights era, which helped inspire a worldwide human rights movement.

Though the rights center is only six years old, it has become an Atlanta landmark, and its mural, created by Paula Sher, is a visual shorthand for the Atlanta-born struggle for dignity and equal treatment.

ExploreJohn Lewis ‘Hero’ mural provides backdrop for Georgia roll call video

But staging a live national feed can be a tricky affair. The eyes of the world were on Bottoms and on the center. There were no do-overs.

Just a few hours before show time, the sound, lighting and video crew hired by the Democratic National Convention realized they needed 50 feet of Ethernet cable to upload the broadcast. The team at the center which also included an AV expert, the IT director and on-site engineers, produced 100 feet of Cat6 cable and the day was saved.

Then just before Bottoms’ live address, which began around 9:20 p.m., the crew heard the sound of a door being opened, or a chair being stacked, reverberating through the atrium. Workers on the floor below were preparing a room for a private meeting, unaware of the activity above.

Toni Friday, director of events at the center, sent a runner down to deliver the message: We are live! Quiet on the set!

The presentation went off without a hitch. Bottoms spoke, as she said, “from the cradle of the civil rights movement,” introducing the video montage dedicated to “our teacher, our friend our conscience, our Congressman, John Lewis.”

ExploreRead more about the speech by Bottoms and the DNC tribute to Congressman John Lewis

Her plan to use the center as a backdrop was kept secret from all but the inner circle until minutes before she went on. Immediately after her three-minute address, “my texts blew up,” said Jill Savitt, president and CEO of the center.

“Whoever I know who has been to the center, they were texting me; we were really excited, really proud.”

Because the center is non-partisan, the Democratic National Convention was required to pay a fee to use the facility.

Other locations were considered, said Rashad Taylor, senior advisor to the mayor, including an outdoor shoot with the skyline of the city and the SkyView ferris wheel in the background. But weather is unreliable. lighting would have been a challenge and an outdoor shoot brings multiple complications.

Taylor said the center was the best choice. “The mural not only underscored the message but spoke to the times that we are in. It showed an amazing piece of art, and we think that the background added to the speech.”

The rights center hasn’t yet reopened to the public, but is hosting occasional private events conducted under strict guidelines. At Thursday’s staging all participants wore masks and face shields, and had their temperatures checked before they entered the facility.

“It was a large-scale exciting moment and an opportunity to demonstrate our team’s excellence,” said Friday.

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