The stories came from the ancestors: my own, others’ and our collective ancestors. I was not alone.
The Lorraine Motel and the National Civil Rights Museum
On a beautiful sunny morning, I turned a non-descript corner looking at my phone making sure I was in the right place…I took a few more steps and there it was. The balcony where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. It literally took my breath away. It looked both exactly as previously pictured and completely unreal. The plaza was silent. I did not know what to do. After standing still, I slowly made my way to the edge of the public area. There were kiosks with videos and written descriptions of that day and King’s legacy. I couldn’t see them because my eyes were filled with tears. I felt the weight of that place to my core.
I had a timed ticket for the museum, so needed to get inside. The weight was not lifted after entering.
There is no way to adequately describe the entirety of this experience. The museum begins with the Middle Passage from Africa. The power of this experience is that the stories are told truthfully – no sentimentality, no trying to pull at your heart strings. It is purely the truth, which is horrifying and shameful. It is also uplifting when you see in whole context of the history of black people, in spite of how their country has treated them, they still rise up and give hope to the rest of us. (Even though it is not their job to give the rest of us hope!)
James A. Brown: my great, great grandfather who served in the Indiana Infantry died in Tennessee during the Civil War. (probably not in battle but of a previous wound or disease)
I learned this ancestor was buried in the Memphis National Cemetery. I had the section and plot number so I thought I would try to find it myself. The cemetery is filled with veterans and their spouses, beginning with those who died in the Civil War. As I walked through the perfectly aligned grave markers, I let myself read the names of the people buried there.
I was also unnerved by the juxtaposition that the immaculately tended grounds of the cemetery were surrounded by what looked like one of the poorest areas of Memphis. Do we treat our dead better than we treat our living brothers and sisters?
Many more stories
I was uplifted at Sun Records and heard how Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and others got their start in music.
I listened to the blues at a time when it feels like those words are a mirror held up reflecting our daily struggles.
I talked to shop keepers and wait staff, listening to how they are trying to get by when tourism has almost disappeared. They, like the rest of us, are living with the combination of a difficult reality and hope for the future.
*(I have always wanted to go to Memphis: listen to live Blues, eat BBQ, and take in the whole vibe. I figured Memphis would be safe because who goes sightseeing to Memphis in the middle of the week during a pandemic?! I was right. It was very safe.
AND – I wanted to spend my money in a place that could use the income – prioritizing small local businesses and tipping well.)