When I was a kid Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday didn’t mean much more than a day off. I looked forward to sleeping in, going shopping, and just not being in school for the day. As I got older, I learned of the changes that Dr. King had made, the progress he put into motion. Learning of these things did not make me feel any different about my day off, however it opened my eyes to what a special man was born on this day.
A long while ago, while I was flipping through the channels I stumbled across the show on MTV called True Life. In this episode they were dealing with interracial couples and the problems that they may face. It showed one couple walk through the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. I was intrigued by the museum and put it on my Places to Go list. Years passed and I filed it in the bottom drawer of my mind’s filing cabinet.
Fast foward to 2009. My mom and a family friend were planning a vacation to Memphis. Other than Graceland, I had no idea what Memphis had to offer. (I’m ashamed to admit that now.) I Googled Memphis and after I got past all of the websites about Elvis and Graceland I saw The National Civil Rights Museum. Immediately I remembered the True Life episode and needed to go there. I brought the information to my mom and asked if she thought it was possible that we make a stop at the museum. She assured me that we would get there if that’s what I wanted.
A little background on the museum. It is broken into two buildings located across the street from one another. The main building is the old Lorriane Hotel. This is an important location because this is the hotel where Dr. King was shot. (See, this whole post had a point) The second building is the apartment building in which James Earl Ray sat in the bathtub and shot Dr. King.
We took the trolley (reason # 641648 why I need to live in Memphis) down to the museum. From the outside the museum still looks like a hotel from the 1960’s. They have the original sign, and a few authentic cars in the parking lot. (So cool!) As we were walking through the doors there were big signs all over saying:
NO PICTURE TAKING AT ALL. PLEASE PUT YOUR CAMERAS AWAY.
Seriously? So of course I had to ask if this is real.
Me: So, like are they serious about the camera thing? I really can’t take pictures in here?
Ticket Lady: Yes m’am. You can’t take pictures in the museum.
Me: Even without flash? Because in Graceland they let you take pictures without flash. What if I just hold the camera?
Ticket Lady: Even without flash. Please put the camera in your bag. They will confiscate it if they see it.
Before you are able to walk through the exhibits you have to sit and watch a short movie on the history of civil rights. It showed pictures from the time of slavery all the way until the 1960’s. The last few minutes of the film they showed pictures of the race riots and the people getting hosed by the police. Now, I’m not a cryer but I seriously teared up. They look on the faces of the people were haunting.
So, because this post is much longer than I expected and totally off topic, I’ll just list the highlights of the museum.
- The Rosa Parks bus
- Lunch Counter Sit-Ins
- MLK’s Birmingham jail cell and his phone call to his wife
- The burned out Freedom Bus
Then we got to the end. The room that MLK spent his last hours. It was surreal. The preservation efforts were amazing. The bed was unmade, the coffee was untouched (well, ok the fake coffee was untouched but you get my drift), his toiletry bag was still in the bathroom.
We made our way across the street to the boarding house where James Earl Ray stayed. They showed the mattress that he slept on, the clothes he left, and the bathtub he sat in when he shot Dr. King. It was eerie. I had that scared feeling in the pit of my stomach as if I was watching a horror movie.
The point of this post was not to recant my trip to Memphis (even though it turned out that way). The museum changed my view on civil rights. I have always had the motto of “If you’re nice to me I’ll be nice to you”. This trip just reaffirmed that. There’s no reason to treat someone else like shit. I feel like I’m veering off course again so I’ll get off my soapbox. That’s another topic for another post.
I’ll end this now and hopefully it makes sense. Happy Birthday Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and thank you for all you started. We have alot more work to do but without you the foundations might not have ever been laid.