Civil Rights Garden
This memorial garden was completed in 2001 and contains a large fountain with eleven granite columnns that offer information about the civil rights movement in New Jersey and throughout the nation. The garden was constructed at a cost of two million dollars and its memorial columnns honor African American leaders such as Rosa Parks and Fredrick Douglass. Each of the eleven granite columnns includes information about the lives of civil rights leaders along with quotes related to the history of the long struggle for civil rights.
Backstory and Context
The memorial garden is a beautiful and tranquil place hidden away in a city that is best known for casinos, beaches, and boardwalks. The project was the first large-scale civil rights memorial park to be constructed in a northern state. Local resident Christian Hetrick explained that Atlantic City’s history was a fitting location owing to the area's history as a home for many former slaves. The park is also located near the place where Fannie Lou Hamer challenged the all-white Mississippi delegation that would represent her state in the Democratic National Convention of 1964 which was held in Atlantic City The convention was seen as a pivotal moment in the civil-rights movement.
Each of the granite columnns contains quotes from famous individuals and information about specific events in civil rights history. The garden begins and ends with a granite marker engraved with the words, "We the People. These serve as bookends that highlight how a statement that once failed to include African Americans as members of the body politic came to be more inclusive. Ten of the eleven granite pillars have uncompleted sections meant to signify that while the journey for civil rights is incomplete.
On the top of a pillar in the very back of the park is a hand, which signifies the right to vote and is paired with a quote that states “the first step towards liberation for any group is the use of the hand. And the power in hand is the vote” (Hellen Gahagan Douglass, 1973). As one enters the garden, quotes from Edward Bellamy, Austin Steward, and Harriett Tubman cover the first pillars. The height of the pillars increases as one progresses through the walkway.
The center of the garden contains a large reflecting pool with a bronze bell centerpiece. The ringing of the bell can create ripples through the water that is said to symbolize the growth of the movement. After walking through history, or rather feeling as though visitors have, the largest pillars hold quotes from more modern activists such as John Lewis and leaders such as President Lyndon Baines Johnson. The blossoming of the flowers add bright red pops of color in a mostly green and grey environment, the beauty showing that even something starting off with much difficulty can progress into a thing of beauty.