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Critics call for management change at Civil Rights Museum

by The Associated Press | December 8, 2007 at 6:35 p.m.

— Critics wanting more black directors for the National Civil Rights Museum pressed their demands with a protest rally Saturday, even though the state already has approved a new lease with the private group that runs it.

The 15-year lease, approved last week, requires the museum on the site of Martin Luther King Jr.'s murder to adjust the racial makeup of its board while also addressing other complaints raised by the critics.

"But the devil is in the details, and there has to be a specific agreement on how this is to be done," said D'Army Bailey, a leading museum critic and rally organizer. "We've got to see how the changes are going to be done."

The rally, with about 100 participants, was staged at the museum following a half-mile march from Clayborn Temple, a church where King often met with leaders of a garbage workers strike. It was while in Memphis he was assassinated in 1968.

Martin Luther King III, King's oldest son, and activist Al Sharpton were scheduled to attend the rally but did not show up.

The new state lease with the Lorraine Civil Rights Museum Foundation requires its directors to allow greater public access to their meetings and to meet with critics to discuss museum operations and programs.

The state agreed to increase spending on museum maintenance.

Squabbling over the lease renewal has gone on for weeks, with critics arguing the museum's 32-member board is too white - and with 12 corporate members is too closely tied with big business.

That makeup, critics contend, limits the museum's establishment of programs for furthering civil rights today.

"There's nothing wrong with having corporate members but it ought not have corporate domination," said Bill Lucy of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union representing Memphis sanitation workers.

The new lease includes a "memorandum of understanding" that directs the museum board to adjust its membership to at least 60 percent black. It is currently just under 50 percent black.

Board membership must also include at least one state lawmaker, a representative of organized labor and a civil-rights historian.

Some 200,000 people a year visit the museum which opened in 1991 and chronicles the struggle for American civil rights from the days of slavery to the present.

Local and state government spent $10 million to build the museum, and the state owns the former motel, which houses the main exhibits. The foundation has doubled the size of the museum, largely through private donations.

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