|LESSON IN TOLERANCE
Civil Rights Group Sponsors Traveling Exhibit
A KKK robe. A mangled piece of the World Trade Center. A charred cross.
Ironically, these symbols of hate and intolerance are now being used to help teach acceptance and inclusiveness instead. They are part of the "Traveling Trunk," an interactive exhibit sponsored by the East Tennessee Civil Rights Working Group, of which our Knoxville field office is a proud and active member.
The traveling exhibit is the brainchild of Gene Rosenberg, a member of the East Tennessee Civil Rights Working Group. Gene initially targeted middle school kids with the Trunk because he believes they're at an age when they are susceptible to bullying others who are different. By letting students actually see and touch these items, Gene thought he could generate classroom discussions about the consequences of racial, religious, ethnic, and other kinds of persecution.
So he set about collecting historical and more modern-day hate crime artifacts from law enforcement agencies (including the FBI) and other sources, and he purchased replicas of other well-known hate symbols. Before long, he had enough to fill up a large suitcase, which eventually grew to several suitcases! And he took his show on the road—first to schools in Knoxville, then around the state, and most recently, to one or two neighboring states.
Currently, the exhibit also features a piece of the bombed Oklahoma City federal building, leg irons, a noose, barbed wire, a piece of the Berlin Wall, street gang bandanas, segregation signs, Holocaust-era objects, photos from hate crime investigations, plus much more. And Gene has included additional types of items in the trunk—like traditional Muslim apparel—to represent other groups of people who are victims of hate crimes. He uses the Muslim clothing to initiate positive conversations about Islamic culture.
Since he began making these presentations, Gene's core audience of middle school students has expanded to include younger kids (who are shown only age-appropriate items), older kids, and various community and church groups. So far, more than 16,000 students alone have seen the Traveling Trunk, and requests for the presentation to be given before more schools, community groups, and churches are pouring in.
Feedback from those who have seen the Traveling Trunk has been overwhelmingly positive. Said one teacher, "The children were touched by your presentation, and you caused them to challenge some of their own thoughts as well as analyze those of others." And another, "Your message planted an important seed and is an important part of educating and inspiring our youth."
Of the exhibit, Richard Lambert—the Special Agent in Charge of our Knoxville office—said, "It sends a very powerful message about hate to anyone who sees it, and I think it will have a long-lasting and positive impact, particularly on students."
The Traveling Trunk's sponsor—the East Tennessee Civil Rights Working Group—was established in 1996 as the Knoxville Hate Crimes Working Group. It's a networking group of community leaders, civil rights advocates, law enforcement agencies, and concerned citizens who work together to help detect and prevent hate crimes—along with other civil rights violations like color of law crimes and human trafficking—in their communities.
Read about the FBI's specific role in investigating hate crimes and other civil rights matters on our civil rights website.