Our tour started in Memphis Tennessee traveling with a group of eleven led by a tour guide who grew up during the Jim Crow years, worked in the cotton fields participated in the march from Selma to Montgomery and now is a college educated teacher and tour guide. Who better to give us a perspective from true life experiences. During our introduction we immediately got into historical stories and mention worthy civil activists such as Jonathan Daniels, Ruby Sales. Viola Liuzzo, Willie Lynch and many more some familiar and some weren’t. A good reason for this tour to learn more and get more insight.
A visit to Memphis would not be complete without visiting the National Civil Rights Museum which was established in 1991 at the Loraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. As you approach the entrance there are these markings on the pavement.
MLK50 is an organization that focuses on power, poverty and policy. This walk of Faith, about a mile, was taken in honor of Dr. King in April of 2018. Dr. King was assassinated April 4. 1968.
As you walk along the path you arrive at the point where Dr. King was assassinated a red and white wreath is hung at the spot on the balcony where he was standing. Below the wreath remain two cars that were at the site at the time of the incident.
Across the street from the museum is a display depicting men of change.
At the corner diagonally from the Loraine motel you will find a make shift exhibit, for the want of a better word, there is a lady in protest of the closure of the motel and the conversion to a museum. Ms. Jaqueline Smith has been protesting for over thirty (30) years. She was evicted and forcibly removed in March 1968. She promised that if she couldn’t live at the motel she would protest on the sidewalk and she has held her promise to today. She often engages with visitors but more accusatory of supporting the museum cause.
Those depicted in the mural were men and women who stood up and spoke up for social justice. Upon entering the museum you are thrown into an experience of unbelievable stories.
The exhibits take you through some of the major occurrences during the Civil struggles from 1954 to 1968. There are interactive exhibits, pictures and still reenactment to give the viewer an indepth understanding. The exhibits covered periods from Africa , slavery and the struggles and activists’ impact. I was immediately reminded of my visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC.
Drs Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted a test using identical dolls except for the color, where one was white and the other was black, to investigate the impact on segregation. The study revealed that black kids favored the white doll and classified the black doll as bad and the white as good. The investigators found that blacks saw themselves as inferior and thought it had a negative impact that could stay with them for life.
Dr. King was in Memphis to support the poorly treated African American sanitation workers. During the strike marches men carried signs reading I am a man.
This visit was interesting, enlightening and quite educational I would encourage you to visit should you ever be in Memphis. The photos shown is merely my attempt to give you an idea of the subjects overed. While driving through the city we passed the St. Jude complex and for those not familiar St. Jude is a pediatric treatment and research center with a strong focus on cancer founded by Danny Thomas and currently run by his daughter Marlo. Children receive exceptional care without families ever receiving a bill.
This church we did not visit but stopped by as this is the church where Dr. King made the speech of reaching the mountain top. This the headquarters of the Church of God in Christ organized by Bishop Mason.
The great pyramid can be seen as you move around. This iconic building was formerly a sport and entertainment venue. Now it is known as the boss pro shop.
Beale Street reminds me of New Orleans Bourbon street. This is where the blues was born and there is a live buzz when walking along the street A band was playing some blues and jazz that could be heard from a distance. A few of my group members sat to enjoy a cocktail and enjoy the live entertainment. You can find souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants along the street where there are visitors and some local people strolling around.
We had lunch at the Blues City Cafe on Beale Street. I certainly enjoyed the food and it appeared that all members of our group enjoyed their meal. We had a fixed menu arranged by our tour organizers yet the choices were wide; the menu included bbq, fish, chicken, pork and many side dishes. A note that I want to emphasize in this area, not specific to the Blues Cafe, is getting gluten free meals so if you are planning to visit try planing with that in mind. Efforts were made to accommodate the need and request for gluten free meals.
We visited the Burkle Estate Museum this house was used as a s slave haven where slaves were helped to escape to freedom. Pictures were not allowed here but we were able to see what remains of the tunnel entrance where the slaves used as one of the stations of the Underground Railroad. There were some beautiful quilts on exhibit with different designs and we learnt that the designs had meaning in the quest to escape. At the front of the house is a magnolia tree and a magnolia tree in front of the house indicated it was a safe place.
Slaves observed geese flying to the north in the spring. In the quilt the the two darkest triangles pointed in the direction they should take when fleeing. The placement of the quilt when hung was important.
We also visited the Sun Studio, founded by Sam Phillips, and is now designated as a National Historic Landmark. This is the recording studio for Johnny Cash, BB King, Elvis Presley and Rufus Thomas to name a few. This is where Elvis made his first recording. Sam Phillips was away and a producer, Marian Keiser heard Elvis and recognised his talent and the rest is history. Group or individual guided tour can be arranged.
Talking of Elvis we also visited Graceland. Tours are well organized to include headsets and ipads offering sequential audio as you move through his home. As you leave the main to explore the mansion there is a theatre for a short film then a shuttle takes you to the mansion. Before boarding the shuttle there is a photo opportunity by Graceland photographers. On your return to the main area, you have the option to purchase the photograph taken. There are places that you can have a snack or lunch.
There are interactive displays automobiles, uniforms and airplanes. You are able to go inside the larger plane named Lisa Marie quite a display of luxury.
Before leaving Memphis we dined at Charles Vergos Rendezvous bbq restaurant; service was goo, popular, great choices and large sized portions. As you walk down the alley there were murals on the wall you get a blues relaxed atmosphere.
We made a visit to Rowan Oaks an historical home in Oxford Mississippi. This was the home of William Faulkner and where he got a lot of inspiration for his writings. The grounds are covered with huge magnolia trees along with others I will let the pictures speak for themselves. Again magnolia trees are very common in this region.
Ole Mis or the University of Mississippi was very involved as it relates to the struggle. The University was built by slaves and there were many protests on campus in recent years to make changes. A saluting statue of a confederate soldier was removed from a prominent spot on campus and now resides in a secluded spot. Prior to the move to the cemetery where it is now it was placed at another spot where the basketball team protested against having this statue in constant view as they practiced.
The first buildings were built using enslaved African Americans. the darken spots in the bricks of the Croft Institute building is said to be children’s fingerprints. Several other prints were seen along the side of the building.
We continue to Birmingham next as the civil journey continues.
3 thoughts on “Retracing the Civil Rights Journey Memphis”
Wow, such history. Thanks for sharing and I know you guys enjoyed this trip.
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More than I expected and was aware of
We certainly did and more enlightening.