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As Black History Month Begins, Museum Opens At MLK Jr. Community Center

To mark Black History month, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Centerhas opened a new museum inside its main building in southern Dallas.

Children in the community center’s Head Start program kicked off the event with a song from the civil rights movement:

“Come on over to the front of the bus ... I’ll be riding up there!”

Ann Ervin, a museum staff member, gave the kids a history lesson.

“It wasn’t just the busses,” she said. “Even the children couldn’t swim, the black children, in the same public swimming pools. They had to go to the riverbanks."

Children responded: "That wasn’t right!”

After the singing came a testimonial from the Rev. Peter Johnson, a long-time civil rights activist, who was the youngest member of King’s staff.  

“Dr. King died fighting for garbage workers,” Johnson said. “Play fair with Martin’s legacy. Treat garbage workers with dignity.”

He said there’s another fight ahead -- on immigration.

“If they come in the morning for Mexicans, and you stay silent, they may come in the evening for us," he said. 

Ralph Isenberg, a Dallas businessman, also fights for immigrant rights.

“I voted for Barack Obama twice,” he said. “I am proud to say that to you, but what I am not proud to say to you is that the man that I voted for sent 200,000 people back to a foreign land, when those people had committed no crimes whatsoever.”

Isenberg said he’s long been a part of the civil rights movement, and even dined with King. His message to the museum audience: Read more about immigrants, because what they are fighting, he says, is similar to what freedom fighters died for.

Craig Watkins, the Dallas County district attorney, said the museum is important for the next generation.

“For these kids, this is new to them,” he said. “They didn’t have to live -- or even their parents may not transcend it with them. And so the fact that we have a museum will give them the ability to look at the struggles that they will endure in their lives, and give them the courage to continue on with the struggles that we’re faced with as we move forward.”  

Emma Rodgers helped put the small museum’s collection together.

“I think what makes this very special is that they can touch and feel, for one thing, and they can take pictures, and so often you can’t do that when you go to a museum," she said.

What you can do is see artworks by Frank Frazier, visit interactive kiosks, and read words by King himself.

Black History Month events at the MLK Jr. Community Center

Feb. 13, 10:30 a.m. -- Expose to Greatness: The MLK Freedom Riders Black History Month Program, MLKJr. Community Center, 2922 MLK Boulevard, Dallas

This is a chance to learn the history of the Freedom Ride in the past, present, and future. The MLK Freedom riders will lead breakout sessions to discuss their unique perspectives on the significance of the historical Freedom Ride of the civil rights movement.

Feb. 19, 7 p.m. -- The Barriers Have Been Broken: Where Do We Go from Here?, MLKJr. Recreation Center, 2901 Pennsylvania Avenue, Dallas

Enjoy soulful music, poetry, entertainment, and an inspirational message. Refreshments will be served. This event is free and open to the public.

Feb. 28, 7 p.m. Expose to Greatness: Black History Month Celebration, MLKJr. Recreation Center- 2901 Pennsylvania Avenue, Dallas

The keynote speaker is Jerry Chambers, a veteran educator for th Dallas Independent School District and member of the MLK Community Center Board of Directors. Tickets are free. RSVP online. For information, call 214-670-8418.

Doualy Xaykaothao is a newscaster and reporter for NPR, based in Culver City. She returned to NPR for this role in 2018, and is responsible for writing, producing, and delivering national newscasts. She also reports on breaking news stories for NPR.