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Extraordinary Objects from the Civil Rights Movement

These incredible artifacts reflect the stories of the Civil Rights Movement.


Briggs and DeLaine Family Bibles

Orangeburg, South Carolina

Years before the 1954 landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, a district court in South Carolina heard Briggs v. Elliott. In this case, parents and community members in Clarendon County, South Carolina, challenged school segregation. Initially, they petitioned for school buses to take Black children to schools like they took white students too. When the schools failed to consider their request, Harry Briggs and other parents sued R.W. Elliott, the president of the school board. Reverend Joseph DeLaine was a school principal who brought in the NAACP to help and recruited parents to be plaintiffs. While the ruling of the Briggs v. Elliott case only doubled down on separate but equal schools, the case was later brought up again in the Supreme Court when it was combined with others into the Brown v. Board of Education case. The Briggs and DeLaine family Bibles are on display in the Cecil Williams Civil Rights Museum. These treasured family Bibles reinforce the importance of religion to many who participated in the fight for racial equality.


Vintage Civil Rights Organization Pins

Little Rock, Arkansas

The Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, an African American history museum in Little Rock, is dedicated to telling the stories of the Mosaic Templars and African Americans in Arkansas, from their struggles against inequality to their everyday lives and triumphs. The center’s artifacts include personal effects of the people who lived during or were inspired by the civil rights movement, from newspaper clippings and magazines to art. The center has several exhibits dedicated to the display of buttons, pins and magnets from important organizations within the movement. One exhibit features an NAACP member pin from 1947, a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) member pin from the 1960s and a National Black Convention pin from 1974. These vintage pins demonstrate the importance of membership in Black American organizations uniting to fight for a common goal, as well as how long these organizations have been vital to civil rights causes.


761st Tank Battalion Exhibit

Pineville, Louisiana

Like virtually every other sphere of life in the early 20th century, the U.S. Army was initially segregated. Black troops were expected to lay down their lives for their country just like white troops while experiencing segregation and discrimination. The 761st Tank Battalion challenged these long-held practices in the army and contributed to its desegregation in 1948. Formed in Louisiana in 1942, this tank battalion was an experimental unit entirely comprising Black soldiers. They fought in France in 1944 and 1945, experiencing 183 days straight of combat and liberating 30 cities on their way to Germany. They were the first African American tankers to see combat and became renowned for their strength and skill in battle. Their efforts directly contributed to the end of World War II. They were known as the Black Panthers, after the animal they chose for their emblem. Today, items from this battalion and an exhibit telling their story are on display at the Louisiana Maneuvers and Military Museum at Camp Beauregard.


Jim Stewart’s Violin

Memphis, Tennessee

Stax Records, originally founded in Memphis in 1957 as Satellite Records, is perhaps one of the most influential soul and R&B record companies. One of its founders, Jim Stewart, had humble origins in the music industry as a country fiddle player and later decided to branch out into producing records. As a white man, his willingness to work with Black artists made him somewhat of an anomaly within the segregated South. However, this pioneering spirit resulted in great strides in Memphis and the music industry. Stax played a critical role in the creation and development of soul music and R&B, working with greats like Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Ike and Tina Turner, and James Brown to produce a long list of iconic songs. Stewart, who passed away in 2022 at the age of 92, dedicated the vintage violin he played when he first entered the music industry to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, where it’s now on display.


Martin Luther King Jr. Documents


Few figures in the civil rights movement are more recognizable than Martin Luther King Jr. King was emblematic of the movement during the 1950s and ’60s, providing leadership, courage and wisdom that inspired individuals of many races and backgrounds to fight for equality and cling to hope for a just world. His speeches and sermons, such as the famous “I Have A Dream” speech, were catalysts for social change and racial equality, even after his 1969 assassination in Memphis. The National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta houses an exhibition called “Voice to the Voiceless,” which features artifacts of King’s from the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Collection. The exhibition includes some of King’s papers and letters, 1,100 books from his personal library and an art installation featuring a backlit display of his unique handwriting stretching 38 feet across 50 metal panels, titled “Fragments.”