A KKK robe. Leg irons. Holocaust-era objects and a twisted scrap of the World Trade Center. Items that were utilized to commit crimes of hatred and intolerance are now, ironically, pieces used to teach inclusiveness and nonviolence.
The Freedom Trunk Exhibit, sponsored by the FBI, will be on display in the main gallery of the Blount County Public Library on Monday, September 28, from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Then at 7 p.m. on Monday evening, Cato Clowney, will give a presentation about the Freedom Trunk in the Sharon Lawson Room at the library. The interactive exhibit is sponsored by the East Tennessee Civil Rights Working Group, of which the Knoxville FBI Office is a member.
Clowney will discuss the Freedom Trunk, the objects contained in it and the goals of the project’s traveling exhibit. People attending the program will have the opportunity to touch and examine the items included in the exhibit, and there will be time for questions after Clowney’s presentation.
The brainchild of Gene Rosenberg, the traveling exhibit provides the opportunity for people of all ages (Rosenberg initially hoped to target middle school students) to see and touch the objects, ask questions and make comments. His hope was that the interaction would generate classroom discussions about the consequences of racial, religious, ethnic, and other kinds of persecution.
Rosenberg set about collecting both historical and contemporary items from hate crime investigations: a charred cross, a piece of the bombed Oklahoma City federal building, a noose, barbed wire, street gang bandanas, segregation signs, a piece of the Berlin Wall. As his collection grew, he first filled a suitcase, then several suitcases, and he hit the road to take his exhibit to schools for discussions.
Now filling a trunk, the objects at present include many other items, including traditional Muslim attire in order to initiate a positive discussion about Islam culture. And while original audiences were middle school students (more than 16,000 students alone), audiences now include younger kids, older students, community organizations and church groups. The Freedom Trunk’s sponsor, the East Tennessee Civil Rights Working Group, was established in 1996 as the Knoxville Hate Crimes Working Group. It is a networking group of community leaders, civil rights advocates, law enforcement agencies and concerned citizens.
Cato Clowney, a Maryville resident, is active with numerous East Tennessee organizations including serving as a board member of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center in Knoxville. He works diligently with a goal of providing positive role models for young people, especially young black males. Another interest is the Negro League Baseball teams and members. See related story and photos in the Blount County Daily Times.
Open to the public, this program is hosted by the Blount County Public Library, located at 508 N. Cusick Street, Maryville, where services are an example of your tax dollars at work for you. For further information about library programs or services, call the library at 982-0981 or visit the Web site at www.blounttn.org/197.