Efforts for this rule of law initiative began formally in 2016 but its origin hearkens back to a 2012 middle school field trip.

As a sixth-grade student, Sydney Alizabeth Pope visited various Alabama civil rights museums and her father, Derrick Alexander Pope, was one of the parent volunteers. Each museum vividly captured the better-known aspects of the civil rights movement, such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Bloody Sunday, and the March on Washington.  Still, there was something missing. The critical and indispensable contribution of lawyers and judges was nowhere to be found.

In 2015, Pope was appointed Co-Chair of the State Bar of Georgia Committee to Promote Inclusion in the Profession. Recalling the cultural and educational opportunity he observed three years earlier, Pope thought the Committee, given its unique mission, could be a suitable group to undertake the effort of bringing into existence an exhibit focused on the contributions of lawyers to the cause of civil rights. After evaluating the feasibility of the idea and meeting with select individuals, he presented the concept to the committee on January 15, 2016, which approved it unanimously. In addition, Pope presented the idea to the State Bar Executive Committee at its April meeting gaining their endorsement. The concept was announced as an initiative at the 2016 State Bar of Georgia Commitment to Equality Awards.

The Committee named the initiative The Arc of Justice Project and established a Content Council to identify the key moments in American jurisprudence that should be reflected in the exhibit. The council - comprised of eight (8) experts in law and history - immediately set about the task of developing the narrative and overall scope of the exhibit, ultimately deciding to complete the project in two (2) phases with each serving a distinct and strategic purpose. Phase 1 will secure the creation of a traveling exhibit and accompanying public programs. Phase 2 will concentrate on the acquisition of artifacts and other collections which, along with the core exhibits, will become The Arc of Justice Pavilion. In December 2017, the State Bar of Georgia adopted the traveling exhibit as a bar initiative.

The committee later determined that the necessary tasks associated with an initiative of this magnitude exceeded its its capabilities. The Arc of Justice Institute was established in January 2018 to administer, govern, and manage the project and Pope was named President and Managing Director.