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US civil rights leader Jesse Jackson to open Museum of Free Derry

Rev Jesse Jackson, one of the foremost members of the civil rights movement in the US, is in Derry this week to open the Museum of Free Derry

By Sue Doherty

Rev Jesse Jackson will share the honours with Martin McGuinness's son Fiachra at the opening of the Museum of Free Derry.

The museum, which cost around £2.5m, hosts a full multi-media exhibition on the civil rights and early conflict era in the city, and also much needed and enhanced visitor facilities and education and research facilities.

The official opening takes on the seventh anniversary of the publication of the Report of the Saville Inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday. The inquiry found that the 14 people who died after soldiers opened fire on a civil rights march in Derry’s Bogside on January 30, 1972 were innocent, calling their deaths “unjustified and unjustifiable”.

There has been controversy over the decision to include the names of British soldiers  in the same exhibit as the names of those who died on Bloody Sunday. The exhibit flashes names on a screen - the names of all those killed during the Troubles from 1969 to 1972 including IRA terrorists, civilians, Army and police personnel. Earlier this month, families of some of those killed on Bloody Sunday, took part in a protest against this exhibition.

Bloody Sunday families protest over Army names on exhibition Widow left 'disgusted' after names of RUC officers listed beside IRA dead in museum

 

'Building bridges, not walls'

Speaking to Q radio in advance of the opening, Rev Jackson praised the museum for its focus on hope, not fear.

He said: “I’m impressed with the new museum. It says that, in our worst moments, we killed each other but,in our best moments, we’ve gone forward by hope, not by fear.

We fought by building bridges and not by just standing behind walls.

"Ancient walls in Ireland are turning into museum relics. Bridges are being built to connect the east and west banks, to connect the city, to connect the races," Rev Jackson continued.

“Our strength is in our connectivity and in bridge-building and healing.”

On Wednesday, Rev Jackson, who stood twice as the Democrats presidential candidate, spent time with a deputation from the SDLP.

Colum Eastwood tweeted that “it was great” to meet Rev Jackson who, he added: “was keen to pass on his regards to another civil rights icon, John Hume”.

Looking forward to the official opening, Robin Percival, chairman of the Bloody Sunday Trust said:

“We are all thrilled to officially open the new Museum of Free Derry after a hugely successful first few months in our flagship building.

“While it has been a long and hard road, we are proud to be back in the heart of the Bogside, where so much of our story happened. Indeed, our enhanced exhibition space has been hailed as a powerful, unforgettable experience for thousands of local, national and international visitors.

“We are proud to have it opened by Jesse L. Jackson Sr, one of the most respected civil rights campaigners in our lifetimes, and by Fiachra McGuinness, in place of his late father Martin, who did so much as Deputy First Minister to help us make this museum a reality.”

The museum is celebrating with an open day on Thursday, June 15, when admission is free of charge. The official opening event at 7pm on Thursday, however, is not open to the general public: admission is by invitation only.

The new Museum of Free Derry was designed by a team led by Brennan Associates (Architects) and cost approx. £2.5m. Funding was provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund, European Regional Development Fund under the European Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for Northern Ireland and administered by Tourism Northern Ireland, Tourism Northern Ireland, the Department for Communities, Derry City and Strabane District Council.

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