ATLANTA — Far from his typical Broadway haunts, the director George C. Wolfe was walking through a construction site here this spring when, amid a cacophony of saws and drills, he stopped and stood before what was to become a replica of a lunch counter that he said would claw visitors back into history.
The display at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Mr. Wolfe said, would allow people to don headphones, rest their hands on the counter and hear a volley of heckles similar to what demonstrators heard during the civil rights movement.
“You’re in the moment,” Mr. Wolfe, the center’s chief creative officer, said, his voice rising. “You’re in the times. You’re experiencing the euphoria and the danger that was existing at the time.”
For Mr. Wolfe and the museum’s supporters, summoning the South’s past in a dramatic way is an unequaled opportunity for Atlanta to showcase a present well beyond CNN, Coca-Cola and a vast international airport. Civic boosters contend that the museum will fuel tourism, broaden the city’s reputation and become a place that could host international human rights events.
Whether the $80 million complex — backed by a mix of public and private funding, with the land donated by Coca-Cola — will fulfill the entirety of that lofty vision is a question that could take decades to answer. But Doug Shipman, the center’s chief executive, said it would be both a vivid link to the city’s rich civil rights history and a prod toward social change.
“This isn’t about specialists,” Mr. Shipman said. “This isn’t about academics. This is trying to take a 15-year-old and move them to interest and inspiration.”
The center, set along the northern edge of Pemberton Place, an area honoring the pharmacist who created Coca-Cola, is scheduled to open on Monday and will be the latest Southern museum to honor the region’s civil rights heritage. Birmingham, Ala., and Memphis are among the cities that host popular museums, and another is planned in Jackson, Miss.