Atlanta’s next human rights legacy

City poised to be role model once again

By Doug Shipman

While many of us may be focused on holiday preparations, an important milestone passes next week: Tuesday marks the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Created after the atrocities of World War II by a global committee led by Eleanor Roosevelt, this United Nations document provides crucial context for what can be our next great legacy.

Beyond “the city too busy to hate,” Atlanta is poised to become America’s home for human rights.

Atlanta holds a unique place in the history of the Civil Rights Movement — as a Southern city where conflict gave way to cooperation, citizens worked together across racial and religious lines, and the business community joined in support.

But this spirit of collaboration didn’t end with the 1960s. In the decades since, Atlanta has become known as a welcoming home for many minorities, from immigrants to LGBT people. Our civil rights legacy and growing diversity played a key role in our selection to host the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games.

We have also quietly built our capacity as a hub for social justice work, serving as home to major nonprofits including Habitat for Humanity, the Carter Center, CARE, Task Force for Global Health, Points of Light and more.

Our next embrace of human rights will put us once again in the international spotlight. In May, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights opens near Centennial Park. Through our exhibits, the public will finally have a permanent space to connect the lessons of the Civil Rights Movement to evolving human rights struggles around the world.

In November 2015, Atlanta hosts the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, only the second time this massive gathering of activists, students and journalists has been held in the U.S.

Atlanta was chosen to host the world’s most influential human rights leaders not only for our prestigious past, but for the promise of our future. Led by civil rights icons like Andrew Young, Evelyn Lowery, John Lewis and C.T. Vivian, our legacy has extended to everyone striving for justice and equality.

As global conflicts over race, ethnicity and religion continue, the world is hungry for positive examples like Atlanta. But, just like in the civil rights era, we have to not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. We must now bring people together to talk about human rights.

Our businesses and cultural institutions, already broadly supportive of these issues, must expand their commitment throughout their philanthropy and daily work. As individuals, we must tell our story to the the world. When someone asks why you love Atlanta, explain how our city embraces and talks about these issues every day.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights reminds us: “Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

Atlanta has been a beacon of human rights for 50 years. It’s up to us to help that light burn even brighter for the next 50.

Doug Shipman is CEO of the National Center for Civil & Human Rights.

One comment Add your comment


December 13th, 2013
5:03 pm

While I do agree that Atlanta has done better than many Cities as it relates to civil rights I’m not sure the United Nations is really a great example. With recent members of the United Nations Human Rights Council such as Saudi Arabia, Cuba and that bastion of civil liberty Russia somehow I suspect we can find better examples of freedom.