History is all around us. When it comes to the civil rights movement, some things may be more within reach for some than others. Americans in the southern states of Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee, to name a few, have civil rights history readily available to them than many western states. While south has their history, western states have more of an advantage when it comes to much the earlier American history of Spanish colonialism and the Gold Rush, amongst other things.
At the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN, our group, consisting of Californian natives, had a chance to see something that many people around the world would like to experience.
Our tour started out with the exact location where civil rights leader, and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. As we approached the Lorraine Hotel, we stood in front of the famous room 306. Feelings of sadness and pride instantly filled the air. Emotion is common when you see a piece of history like that.
A young Colorado couple stood in front of the historical sight and expressed their detachment from history, “Our environment doesn’t reflect these [type of] events. Colorado didn’t have to deal with those things. I’m glad I’m getting the opportunity to experience it.”
When walking into the museum we instantly saw a mountainous stone, with beautifully and carefully carved human figures climbing, symbolizing the gradual struggle for African Americans in America. When we began the tour, there was an exhibit dedicated to figures within popular culture of the time, like The Beatles, and their expression of Dr. Kings’ efforts within the civil rights movement. More interestingly, the exhibit included former United States president, Lyndon Johnson and his passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The museum is designed as if you were walking through a physical timeline. Beginning with the enslavement of millions of Africans to slave rebellions profiling the infamous Nathaniel Turner, who lead the largest slave rebellion in history by killing over 50 whites; to the escape of many slaves by honoring the very brave Harriet Tubman, who showed courage by leading over 300 slaves become free; to the birth of the African feminist movement by profiling Sojourner Truth who delivered the famous, “Ain’t I A Woman” speech; to the education of African slaves by presenting well-known abolitionist and one of the best orators of the time, Fredrick Douglas, and concluding the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.
In the next room, we began to see history after the freeing of the slaves. It was amazing to see the change in attitudes during that time. Many blacks during that time were left with no money or resources, and as a result sought education. On the other end of the spectrum, the KKK was founded, with its sole purpose being to “keep blacks in their place”. As you continued your walk, you noticed a very violent section. Soon after, you noticed that there was a birth of Black Nationalism. Marcus Garvey was especially important to that particular movement because he felt that all blacks should embrace their African roots and go back to the birthplace of civilization. As a result, the NOI, Nation of Islam, sprouted out of Detroit, MI and provoked a new consciousness within the black community. Immediately after, you notice that there was a growth of black organizations including CORE, Congress for Racial Equality, the National Urban League, and the SCLC, Southern Christian Leadership Conference whose goals were to fight for equal rights for blacks.
The road to progression for blacks during that time, took a turn for the worst. There were the murders of civil rights leader, Medgar Evers in 1963, and CORE members James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner in 1964. The slayings played such a significant role in that it pushed blacks further to the edge. That “boiling point” sparked not just organization, but physical action against injustice. Through pictures, quotes and brief descriptions to compliment, the museum went on to profile several protests, marches, sit-ins, and speeches, then concluding in the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
His legacy has inspired millions around the globe and his spirit has kept hope in the hearts of people. We have been accepted as not half a human, but a complete human. A human that can think, be successful and content in America. In the 1980s, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who worked closely with Dr. King fought for us to get the title of African-American since we have done quite a service for this country. Amongst others, President-elect, Barack H. Obama has been passed the torch, the God-given vision of hope that we will one day overcome the very injustice that would have prevented him from being where he is today. Indeed, we still have a long way to go. However, the result of countless civil rights workers, my ancestors, has allowed me, you, the world to be connected. Ashe’.
Peace and Blessings,
Angela A. Hughes