Recently, we had the opportunity to visit the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN. The experience was enlightening, disturbing, and emotional. To learn about civil rights in a history book is far different than standing there, breathing it, and taking it into one's mind and heart.
First, the museum is inside the Lorraine Hotel (where Dr. King was assassinated). The simple yet evident memorial, a wreath which hangs near Dr. King's hotel room door, set the tone for the entire experience. Civil rights for black people came at a price---a great price.
We were invited to view a thirty minute film upon entering the museum; however, that was about twenty-nine minutes longer than my toddler's attention span, so we moved on to the exhibits. Unfortunately, cameras are not allowed inside the museum, or I would have been able to share the haunting displays with my readers.
I say haunting for several reasons. One of the first artifacts on the wall was a sign with the words "colored" (arrow going one direction) and "white" (arrow another direction) indicating where people should go to get a drink. (One thing we learned is that the "colored" water fountains were warm while the white people's water fountains were nice and cool). To think that my daughter and I wouldn't have been able to share the same bathroom stall is shocking.
Next on display was a KKK uniform. Pure evil, readers. The uniform's mask was eerie beyond belief----with the eye slits hollow.
As we moved from display to display, I felt embarrassed to be a white person. I was sickened thinking about what people of my same color did to people who were of a darker completion. I felt guilty by racial association.
Another compelling display was the sit-in. There was video playing of sit-ins along with a counter and models sitting at the swivel seats. Hanging nearby were handwritten music and lyric sheets of sit in songs. (After we left the museum, we went to The Arcade, the oldest cafe in the area, and sat alongside interracial couples, white families, black families, etc.---and to think this wasn't allowed fifty-five years ago! And there I shared a glass of water, gasp, with my daughter).
We got to see footage of the march on Washington, protest signs, buses (yep--whole big buses), and so much more.
The museum had a replica of Dr. King's hotel room. Then, right next to it, a museum guide had us look out the window to a building across the street and pointed out a window saying that it's believed that is about where Dr. King's assassin stood when he shot Dr. King.
A second building, across the street, concluded the tour. There we were shown "where we are now" types of displays. I breathed a sigh of relief---reflecting on the fact that my family is safe, my daughter is allowed to be our daughter, because of what others sacrificed for her.
Normally my writing is more fluid, confident, and detailed. However, I find myself at a loss here. The evil that seemingly hung in the air was nearly tangible as we walked from exhibit to exhibit.
But I wouldn't be doing the experience justice if I say that I am very happy we went as a family. I was able to say to my daughter (yes, she's only 18 months), that there were people who did very bad things to other people, but that there were some very strong people who stood up for what was right so that all people could have freedoms and a good life. (She just munched on her cracker and ran off to look out a window).
I don't know exactly how I'll explain to her the history of civil rights as she gets older. But I know I will try my best to be honest, to give honor to those who sacrificed, and above all, to teacher my child to respect all people, even if they are different.