MONTGOMERY – Troy University’s Rosa Parks Museum honored a family with roots in Montgomery on Saturday, naming its atrium in memory of Charles Cahn Baum and in honor of his family.
Reared in Montgomery in a prominent Jewish family, Charles Baum graduated from Princeton, Harvard Business School and the University of Maryland Law School. A resident of Baltimore, Md. for most of his life, he had a passion for civic and philanthropic causes, always maintaining his devotion to Alabama. He died in 2015.
Patti Baum made a gift to the museum in her late husband’s memory in order to help fund new educational programs, such as the museum’s summer camp, and continue the mission of uplifting Mrs. Parks’ legacy.
“In January 2016, I went to see the musical Hamilton on Broadway,” Baum said. “It was a wonderful story of a man and his legacy. A line from one of the song poses the question, ‘Who lives, who dies and who tells your story?’ I left that play wanting to figure out a meaningful place where to tell Charles’ story.”
The choice of the museum to help continue her late husband’s legacy came as a result of his email response to a friend. The friend had seen the movie “Selma” and, knowing that Charles had grown up in Montgomery during the Civil Rights Movement, inquired as to what his life was like during those times. In that email response, Charles lamented about his family not being “brave nor courageous, nor willing to risk our own comfort for a greater cause.”
“I want his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to know what his life was like growing up in Alabama during a period of great unrest,” Baum said. “I want them to know why he encouraged all of us relentlessly to speak out and stand up for what is right. I wanted to do something that Charles might have done had he not run out of time and I certainly wanted to honor his Alabama roots. Charles and Rosa Parks shared some things in common. They both had profound humility, a strong sense of decency, a truly good soul, a determination to fight for their beliefs, valued education, southern grace, open minds. Neither carried any hate in their hearts. They were authentic, gentle and kind and fiercely loyal to their friends. They both deeply loved family. It is a tribute to them both – Mrs. Parks and Charles – that you are all here today.”
Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr., Chancellor of Troy University, said the museum has become a “crown jewel” for the University, for the city of Montgomery and within the Civil Rights Movement.
“The Rosa Parks Museum is truly a special place,” Dr. Hawkins said. “We opened the museum on Dec. 1, 2000, exactly 45 years to the day after her arrest. It was at the groundbreaking ceremony that Mrs. Parks said she hoped that the museum would inspire our children and serve to encourage them to set high standards. I think Mrs. Parks would be pleased to know that about 65 percent of the visitors to the museum thus far have been children. I think we have a world to educate, and to Patti and the Baum family, we thank you for making it possible to name the atrium of the museum in memory of a great man.”
Dr. Felicia Bell, director of the museum, said the gift of Charles and Patti Baum had already made possible a summer camp for local school children and will continue make a positive and lasting impact on the lives of local children.
“Troy University has entrusted me to honor the legacy of Mrs. Rosa Parks by providing a platform for scholarly dialogue, civic engagement and social activism for today’s Civil Rights Movement,” Dr. Bell said. “We live this mission every day. Whether we give tours to groups of boisterous fourth graders or when Troy University students give theatrical presentations of different characters of the boycott or when we open a new traveling exhibit in our gallery, or when we host a community forum on human trafficking, the museum serves as a living legacy to Mrs. Parks every day. We are grateful for the generosity of Charles and Patti Baum and the many of you who have made gifts in Charles’ memory.”
David Shapiro, chief executive officer of Mentor, served as keynote speaker for the event.
“Thank you to the museum, the University, the leaders and supporters who protect and grow the legacy of Rosa Parks’ historical impact through preservation and education,” Shapiro said. “To be in this city, in this place which celebrates righteous struggle, deliberate sacrifice and the stubborn progress of racial equity and ultimately activism for human rights, to me and I’m sure to many of you — with Charles on our hearts and minds — it just feels like home. “
The event also featured comments by other members of the Baum family, Troy University Trustee Lamar P. Higgins and emcee Dr. Lance Tatum, vice chancellor of the Montgomery Campus.