Q&A with Carrie Supple - Museums Association

Q&A with Carrie Supple

Using the civil rights movement to empower people to take action for social justice
Carrie Supple is the director of Journey to Justice, a social justice network that uses the US civil rights movement as a basis to inspire and empower people to take action for social justice.

Journey to Justice is involved in a number of projects including a travelling exhibition and oral history work with young people.

What is Journey to Justice and how are you working with museums?

Our ultimate aim is the formation of networks of people who are engaged in working for a more equal and just world where human rights are cherished.

Our first project is a multi-media touring exhibition that focuses on the story of the US civil rights movement – a universal symbol of struggle – and its relationship with UK campaigns to illustrate the themes of personal involvement and collective action.

The exhibition includes photographs, music, poetry and art, as well as audio-visual and interactive features, and installations, such as a recreation of a sit-in lunch counter and the stage where Martin Luther King and others spoke on 28 August 1963.

We also tell the stories of some of the less well-known men, women and children involved in the movement, such as Elmore Nickleberry, a Memphis sanitation worker and Janice Wesley, who joined the Birmingham Children’s Crusade.

In April, we piloted the exhibition at the Discovery Museum in Newcastle, as part of its social justice progamme. We had 3,300 visitors and tremendous and useful feedback from them and from museum staff.

How did the project come about?

In 2013 I visited some of the civil rights movement museums in the US, and wanted to create a way for people in the UK to learn about the important period of history.

Journey to Justice was founded in response to: increasing inequalities of income, education and employment opportunities; and a large number of people feeling powerless and disconnected despite a wealth of social change organisations.
We believe that the history of struggles for freedom and rights, when taught in an engaging way, can inspire us to think about non-violent responses in order to create a more just society founded on human rights principles and move from apathy to action.

How will you make the travelling exhibition relevant to the local area and communities?

As the exhibition travels through the UK, we will work with local teams to harness local energies and histories, which take a different form in each place.  

We start by organising a taster day and inviting people from the area to find out about our work and how it might fit theirs. The starting point is always with local issues and priorities and the local history of struggles for social justice. In June we ran a successful taster session in partnership with the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust at Manchester City Library.    

Our exhibition and related programme offer a framework to galvanise education, arts and social change activities which are relevant locally. We work in alliance with organisations and individuals who form a steering group, recruit volunteers and take forward the legacy. Following our pilot in the North East, 550 people have signed up to be kept in touch with Journey to Justice.

How is oral history and digital storytelling used to share stories of the civil rights movement and engage young people?

Oral history was a key part of our programme in Newcastle. Thanks to a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, we worked with Alex Henry of Curiosity Creative, a digital storytelling centre, to create the local history element of our exhibition.  

Curiosity Creative trained young people who then led interviews with five local activists; people who have worked on union campaigns with low paid workers and on anti-fascist, anti-deportation campaigns and two who met Martin Luther King when he came to receive an honorary degree from Newcastle University in 1967.

Being involved in the process engaged the young interviewers and the edited interviews formed part of our travelling exhibition at the Discovery Museum.

Our exhibition in Newcastle had listening points where visitors could hear the voices of those who took part in the civil rights movement and these were cited by many as the most powerful part of the exhibition.

We also ran a pilot of our approach with young people at George Mitchell School in Leyton, London. They heard oral testimonies from US, UK and South African human rights activists, which have given them the confidence to create their own campaign and to have a voice in the exclusion process at school.

What future plans do you have once the travelling exhibition has finished?

We plan to bring people who have been involved with Journey to Justice all over the UK together after five years of the project to share ideas, issues, histories and the arts in response to our themes.

There has not been time to begin planning any future projects – this one is totally absorbing for an organisation of mainly volunteers. However, we are interested in many aspects of the UK’s history of movements for freedom or, who knows, the history of struggles in Australia or Sweden.

There are no borders to inspiring histories and ideas.

Carrie Supple is the director of Journey to Justice. She can be contacted by email

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