GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) – A recent report on attendance at a new civil rights museum shows that despite widespread publicity, fewer than 6 percent of the visitors to the facility are from beyond North Carolina and neighboring states.
The News and Record of Greensboro reported Sunday that the first six months of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro saw about 40,000 people come through its doors. Organizers had estimated the facility would draw 200,000 visitors a year.
Fewer than 3,000 of those visitors came from beyond North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
The museum's centerpiece is the Woolworth's lunch counter where black college students challenged the whites-only policy in 1960. “We've just started,'' said Melvin “Skip'' Alston, chairman of the museum's management committee and the Guilford County Board of Commissioners.
“Three or four years, once we get it all together, then that's when we'll be averaging 200,000 a year. “Once we get our whole organization up and running, yes, 200,000, I don't see that being a problem.''
More than 80 percent of the museum's visitors have been from North Carolina and more than half of those were Greensboro, High Point or Winston-Salem residents. The museum's annual budget is about $3 million with the money coming from ticket sales, special programs and corporate contributions. The museum also hosts three fundraising events to help with operating funds.
No public money is used for daily operations. Even though the museum has yet to bring outside visitors to the area, Henri Fourrier, president of the Greensboro Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he thinks it has attracted positive national attention that could translate in future visitors.
“I can't begin to say what it's done for us in terms of generating national press,'' Fourrier said. “We've had a tremendous number of travel writers come into the area.''
The museum has been featured in several of the visitors bureau's advertisements, he said.
Those who do come say it is worth the trip. “I've been coming here for 10 years waiting for it to open,'' Joy Cowdery, associate professor of education at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio, said during a recent visit.
"Now, at last, it's open.'' Muskingum sends a group of education majors to Greensboro every fall to improve their teaching skills at area facilities such as Gateway Education Center.
Her students who are too young to remember the struggle for civil rights in the 1960s were impressed by the exhibits at the museum.
“I think this is extremely valuable, especially for someone who is not familiar with the history, exactly what happened and how it happened,'' said Brock Whiteman, one of Cowdery's students who hopes to pursue a career in special education.
The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday. Tickets are $10 for adults with discounts for children, students and seniors.