Former Rhodes College executive Russell Wigginton has been appointed president of the National Civil Rights Museum, a premier tourist and cultural destination in Memphis.
Wigginton will succeed Terri lee freeman as president of the museum on August 1, the museum announced on Thursday.
Wigginton, a 23-year history professor and executive at Rhodes College, left Memphis Private School in 2019 to become a senior executive at a nonprofit based in Nashville, the Tennessee State Collaborative on Educational Reform.
“We are fortunate to be able to attract someone with Russ’ background and experience to become our next president,” Herb Hilliard, chair of the museum’s board of directors, said in a statement. “The board and I are convinced that Russ is the right person to run the museum at this time.
Wigginton, who taught history early in his career, will lead the museum at a time when civil rights and racial equity have been elevated to social concern at the highest level since the 1960s.
“During this critical time for our country, the physical location of the museum and all that it represents plays a vital role in understanding our country’s history in the areas of civil and human rights – and its impact on our country. country today, “Wigginton said in a statement. âI welcome the opportunity to work with a committed staff to challenge and inspire us all to seek justice and equality for all. “
The museum includes the former Lorraine Motel, which is now part of the museum but in 1968 a business was active near Central Station when civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on the motel’s second-floor balcony.
A civic group from Memphis opened the museum in 1991. It quickly attracted over 300,000 visitors a year and was considered the “only museum devoted to a comprehensive overview of the American civil rights movement from 1619 to the present day.” reported City Ink, a national travel guide for tourists.
Freeman, who became the museum’s president in 2014, led the institution as crowds and international media focused on the city in 2018 for the 50th anniversary of MLK’s death. During his tenure, an array of civil rights-focused cultural museums opened across the country, as part of a boom in heritage tourism. In January, Freeman told The Commercial Appeal the new museums have not dampened interest in the Memphis institution. Instead, attendance at the National Civil Rights Museum has continued to grow year on year.
Wigginton graduated from Rhodes with a history degree in 1988, returned to teaching at the school in 1996 for a decade, then entered administration, serving variously as vice president for external programs, vice president for relations with colleges, then in 2017 vice-president for student life and dean of students.
He earned a doctorate in African American history from the University of Illinois and six years later wrote the book “The Curious Career of the Black Athlete: African Americans and Sport.”
He is director of the museum and will step down when he becomes president.
Over the years, Wigginton has served on the boards of directors of Memphis Zoo, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Facing History and Ourselves, Ballet Memphis, ArtsMemphis, UrbanArt Commission, Bridges USA, St. George’s Independent Schools, Promise Academy Charter School and KIPP Schools.