Sunday, November 22, 2009

National Civil Rights Museum

One of my reasons for visiting Memphis, was to return to the National Civil Rights Museum. I plan to write an article on this excellent museum for one of the RV magazines.

I remember my first visit and the sense of deja vu. As Lin and I walked from the parking lot, through the entrance gate, I felt I had been there before. Then I realized I had been there; in news clips and newspaper photos.

The museum in in the former Lorraine Motel. As we entered the area, the balcony where Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life ended was in front of us. The same aqua blue doors, the cars below, the motel facade was as we remembered it.

This trip there were some differences. They have removed the wall that separated the parking area from the museum. It does open up the approach from the street, but I thought the previous arrangement was stronger. But the exterior is still the Lorraine motel. Inside, they have gutted the motel, except for the room King and Abernathy occupied and the room next door. The rest of the museum winds in a logical and easy to follow progression through the years from the first resistance to slavery to modern times. Some of this history I know only from classes and reading.

But some of the displays evoke memories from the sixties and incidents I remember well. The Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War era are part of who I am, how I look at the world. I remember my high school graduation when one seat was missing. One of my classmates left before graduation ceremonies to go to Alabama to register voters. Our principal called his name, just as all the graduates names were called, and explained why he was not there that night.

The route through the museum takes you into a city bus where a plaster figure of Rosa Parks sits and you listen to the words of her quiet resistance. You turn a corner and see a lunch counter. Photos on the walls depict Bull Connor, police dogs and fire hoses, and leaders of our country, the Kennedy's, LBJ, sitting down with leaders of the civil rights movement, to discuss the issues. There are photos of marching in the streets. There are photos of the brave children who integrated the Little Rock schools, James Meredith, the bombed churches, the March on Washington where you can listen to a recording of King's famous
"I Have a Dream" speech or read his letters from the Birmingham Jail. There are photos of people, white and black, who lost their lives in the movement.

And there are photos of the inauguration of Barack Obama.

If you are near Memphis, be sure to take in the museum. Beale Street is only a short ways away for jazz and eating afterwards.

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