The Civil Rights Digital Library Relaunches With A New Look And Fifteen Years Of Updated Content

A premier online compilation of digital civil rights content is relaunching with a new look and thousands of additional pieces of history.

The milestone marks a new era for the Civil Rights Digital Library (CRDL). This project brings together more than 200 libraries, archives, and museums to provide free online access to historical materials documenting the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. These collaborative partnerships are the bedrock of this national project.

View the entire collection online at 

Barbara McCaskill, an English professor at the University of Georgia who serves as director of the Civil Rights Digital Library and other projects, notes: 

“Since its launch in 2008, the Civil Rights Digital Library has played a meaningful role in advancing the understanding of America’s civil rights activism at a time when upticks in racially motivated violence and crime and the erosion of voting rights have attached more urgency than ever to issues of equality, equity, human dignity, and freedom.”  

She says: 

“The signal achievement of this resource is its varied and unique content about people, places, and events. But it also challenges users to expand their knowledge of civil rights studies beyond national icons such as Dr. King and Rosa Parks, cities such as Atlanta and Birmingham, and beyond the 50s, 60s, and 70s to the present day.“ 

”As a result, the Civil Rights Digital Library continues to demonstrate a transformative impact on scholarship and instruction, as well as on how we carry ourselves as citizens and come together in community.” 

First funded by a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Civil Rights Digital Library launched in 2008 as part of the University System of Georgia’s GALILEO statewide virtual library initiative. Along with these continuing collaborations, the Digital Library of Georgia , an initiative of GALILEO and the University of Georgia Libraries, administers the site. 

In addition, support continues to be provided by the following partners: 

Since 2005, the portal has grown from about 100 collections to more than 350 collections of digitized content, including primary sources and educational resources.

The Civil Rights Digital Library contains contributions from statewide and national partners, documenting the civil rights era, including:

Researchers and visitors can search the content of the Civil Rights Digital Library in numerous ways, including geographic location browsing with an interactive map that identifies civil rights movement-related resources in all 50 states.

The site also contains: 

  • Biographical information for more than 3,000 people active during the civil rights era, which can be browsed alphabetically by surname. Many of these civil rights workers and foot soldiers may not be familiar, but their commitment to the movement formed the backbone of transformative civil rights campaigns and social reform.
  • New Georgia Encyclopedia (NGE) articles that cover events and individuals associated with the civil rights movement in Georgia. In addition to the concise, authoritative articles, images, multimedia files, and online exhibitions in the NGE further investigate civil rights figures and events. NGE’s content is made possible by Georgia Humanities in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/ GALILEO, the University of Georgia Libraries, and the Office of the Governor.
  • Raw newsfilm footage from Georgia television stations WSB (Atlanta) and WALB (Albany) preserved through the University of Georgia Libraries’ Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection. These stations covered civil rights events throughout the entire southeastern United States. 
  • Exhibits drawn from materials belonging to partner libraries, archives, and museums across Georgia, created by Georgia graduate students in collaboration with the DLG and NGE.

“By relaunching an expanded site on Sept. 9, 2022, the 65th anniversary of the 1957 Civil Rights Act, the Digital Library of Georgia celebrates the first federal civil rights legislation of the 20th century,” adds Sheila McAlister, director of the Digital Library of Georgia. “The relaunch demonstrates the DLG’s commitment to reflecting and sharing the diversity of experiences in Georgia and nationwide.”

View the entire collection online at

Download the Civil Rights Digital Library 2022 Press Kit here

Selected images:
Series of WSB-TV newsfilm clips of a civil rights march and resulting arrest; civil rights preachers and local officials speaking at mass meetings; groups of Albany city officials as well as civil rights leaders entering the federal courthouse; and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Reverend Ralph D. Abernathy at a press conference in Albany, Georgia, 1962 July. In this still image, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. expresses his disappointment of the injunction blocking demonstrations issued by federal district judge J. Robert Elliott and his gratitude for the reversal of that injunction by Judge Tuttle. He calls the audience to present their bodies as a significant witness by continuing to move and work for freedom. Courtesy of the Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection.
Series of WSB-TV newsfilm clips of African American civil rights workers, Georgia National Guardsmen, and city officials in Albany, Georgia, 1961 December. Courtesy of the Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection.
WSB-TV newsfilm clip of an unidentified white female civil rights worker describing the challenges she faces in rural southwest Georgia from Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, 1962 August 1. This still image includes participants of a mass meeting, possibly at Shiloh Baptist Church, singing the freedom song, “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize.” Courtesy of the Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection.
WSB-TV newsfilm clip of African American student protesters singing as they are arrested by police at the Albany Carnegie Library in Albany, Georgia, 1962 August 2. Courtesy of the Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection.

The Rylander Theatre Collection Brings Viewers to Cinephile Jimmy Carter’s Childhood Landmark

A photo of the front of the Rylander Theatre when it was under the ownership of the Martin Theatre Company. T he marquee reads Monday Tuesday Bette Davis, Edward G. Robinson in Kid Galahad.

In 2020, the Digital Library of Georgia partnered with the Rylander Theatre, providing $7500 worth of services as part of its collaborative digitization grant program. Together, they built and described Rylander Theatre Special Collections, a digital collection covering the theater’s “first life” spanning 1921-1957. The collection includes rare photographs of the building and the small businesses in its Americus business neighborhood, as well as membership cards, numerous souvenir programs, theater posters, coupon books, fliers, and handbills.

Jacob A. Ross, a park ranger at the Jimmy Carter National Historical Park in Plains, Georgia, notes: 

“I consider the Rylander Theatre’s history to be part of President Carter’s history, as the young Carter would often attend shows at the theatre during the same era these items were created.”

United States presidents have often intermingled with motion picture culture throughout history. Former presidential appearances in Hollywood films include Donald Trump’s cameo in Home Alone 2 (1992), Bill Clinton in First Kid (1996), or the actor-turned-politician Ronald Reagan’s performances in Alice in Movieland (1940) and It’s a Great Feeling (1949). However, former president Jimmy Carter holds the crown for the most movies watched at the White House Family Theater, with 480 films seen during his 4-year term

Carter, now 97, served as the United States’ president from 1977 to 1981. Before being elected president, Carter served in the U.S. Navy under Admiral Hyman Rickover, who led the U.S. nuclear submarine program; two terms in the Georgia Senate (1963-1967, pp. 382-383 of PDF); and one term as Georgia’s governor (1971-1975, pp. 27-28 of PDF). Defeated by Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential election, in 1982, Carter and former first lady Rosalynn Carter established the Carter Center, a non-partisan public policy organization.

Away from the high-stakes environment of Carter’s numerous careers, his secret love for movies was born in Americus, Georgia’s Rylander Theatre. After leaving his childhood town of Plains, Carter attended Georgia Southwestern College (later renamed Georgia Southwestern State University) in Americus, where he found the historic theater and soon became its most celebrated patron.

During his college years, Carter would often attend the Rylander Theatre’s movie screenings since it was one of the first establishments to show “talkies,” or movies with sound, that had transitioned from silent film between 1926-1930. These films, shown during the theater’s “first life” (1921-1951), were part of a program that included musicals, vaudeville shows, and silent films. Many advertisements for these events are available in historical issues of the Americus Times-Recorder in the Digital Library of Georgia’s Georgia Historic Newspapers portal and digitized through the National Digital Newspaper Program.

Carter’s passion for cinema grew during his term in the Oval Office. As a result, the genre or meaning behind a specific movie he watched would often coincide with key events during his presidency. 

Some movies that President Carter watched during his term in office (with links to his diary entries on those days):

Thanks to Carter’s presidential daily diary, we can see that he and First Lady Rosalynn Carter viewed Star Wars (1977) on February 4, 1978, accompanied by Anwar and Jehan Sadat, the president and first lady of Egypt. This viewing coincided with one of the numerous visits from the Sadats throughout Carter’s presidency. Discussions from this February visit grew into the Camp David Accords in September of 1978, when Carter brokered a peace deal between Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Whether or not the screening of Star Wars had an impact on the peace treaty is unknown, but conspiracy theorists have had fun imagining so over the years.

Another intriguing relationship from Carter’s watchlist includes viewing The Life of Emile Zola, a movie about the Nazi invasion of France during WWII (June 7, 1978). He watched this film on the same day he delivered a graduation speech at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, emphasizing the importance of human rights in foreign policy. 

The former president also viewed Frank Capra’s The Lost Horizon (1937) on September 15, 1979, one day after his approval ratings dropped to the lowest point for any president in three decades. On the same day, he fainted during a 10K road race. The Lost Horizon, a drama about a group of plane crash survivors who land in the remote Himalayas, likely served as an escape for Carter during the troubling times of his term.

The Rylander Theatre was established by Arthur Rylander and his son, Walter, in 1921, initially as a city-civil collaborative project. The Rylander family then brought in New York architect C. K. Howell to design the magnificent edifice, said to be “a prime example of eclectic architecture restored to its former glory” (Anderson, 2003).

As the 1950s began, The Rylander Theatre had already started to see the end of the business as they knew it. A new and larger theater, namely The Martin Theatre, began pulling in the business of Rylander’s market and even started taking major movie releases, relegating Rylander to “B-grade” movie screenings. As of 1951, the Rylander Theatre was closed for business indefinitely.

Its doors would remain closed until the city of Americus, Georgia, Governor Roy Barnes, and other foundations and private donors managed to raise 4.8 million dollars in funding to restore the building. Then, reopening on President Carter’s birthday, October 1, 1999, along with an auditorium (the Jimmy Carter Auditorium) named after the former president, the “finest playhouse south of Atlanta” began anew. The meticulous renovations were rewarded with a 2000 Preservation Award from the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation. 

Since reopening, the Rylander Theatre has offered live performances, musicals, and organ concerts on its 1928 Möller Deluxe Theatre Pipe Organ (one of only three in the state), movies, community theater, as well as other events throughout the year.

Like many other small businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the theater significantly, causing financial hardships and resulting in the theater’s closing its doors for an entire 13-month period, spanning from March 2020 to April 2021. Thankfully, since then, the theater has reopened for weekly programming.

Recommended Resources

Page of President Jimmy Carter's daily diary from February 4, 1978
Page from February 4, 1978, daily diary of President Jimmy Carter where President Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter watched Star Wars accompanied by President Anwar Sadat and First Lady Jehan Sedat of Egypt.
An Americus Times-Recorder ad for the Rylander Theatre, February 16, 1924. The ad details a romantic, sci-fi film, Black Oxen (1923), showing at the Rylander Theatre. The slogan for the movie was “A startling revelation of the secret of youth and beauty.” Digitized through the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP).
A photo of the front of the Rylander Theatre when it was under the ownership of the Martin Theatre Company. T he marquee reads Monday Tuesday Bette Davis, Edward G. Robinson in Kid Galahad.
A photo of the front of the Rylander Theatre when it was under the ownership of the Martin Theatre Company, a chain of more than sixty-five theaters owned by R. E. Martin of Columbus, Georgia. The marquee reads, “Mon Tue Bette Davis, Edw[ard] G. Robinson in Kid Galahad [1937].”
The ad details the attractions showing at the theatre for Thanksgiving week. Digitized through the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP).
A printed program from the Rylander Theatre gala opening on January 21-22, 1921 for the play “Lightnin’ (1918)” containing cast and Rylander Theatre personnel information and local advertisements.
A program from the Rylander Theatre gala opening on January 21-22, 1921 for the play “Lightnin’ (1918)” containing cast and Rylander Theatre personnel information and local advertisements.