Monday, June 01, 2009

Revisiting Memphis

"Where are you all moving to?"


"Oh, you poor thing!"

This was the exchange I most encountered several months ago when I thought I was headed to Memphis. My husband had taken a promotion that required him to stay in Memphis and I stayed in Indiana, well because we had just moved there seven months before! Then he receives another promotion and is transferred to Middle Tennessee!

The thing about Memphis is all moot now, but for a city that inspires images of a gaiety on Beale Street, the duck walk at the Peabody, a trip to the most famous mansion on the Mississippi, Graceland, the best BBQ and an annual event in May to prove it, Memphis sure gets a bum rap when it comes to destinations for a vacation....unless you love Elvis.

Yesterday I was talking to a friend who was asking me about Memphis. He was asking me about the various landmarks one finds there, Graceland, Sun Studio, Beale Street, the Lorraine Motel. Had I been there?

Ten minutes later..........I concluded the impressions of my experience with a, "I can't believe that I retained all that!"

Fact of the matter is, both Joe and I were dumbstruck by the Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. We spent two days immersed in the history that sits so close to downtown Memphis. First we toured the Lorraine Motel and the exhibits on the first day. The second day we crossed the street and entered the Boarding House where James Earl Ray rented a room on the second floor and waited for his moment.

I will not fill this post with the history of the events that unfolded in April of 1968, most of us know it well, but I will encourage anyone who visits Memphis to find the Lorraine and enter into one of most challenging times our nation has ever experienced. And in many ways we still are challenged.

Seeing the Freedom Rider's Greyhound, sitting on a replica of the city bus that Rosa Parks made history in, seeing the jail cell that MLK spent time writing a famous letter while doing his time, to look into the faces of those who gave their lives in the name of freedom just leaves you with a sense of the enormity of injustice and prejudice in this country and how far we have come.

Because if it were not for MLK and his rhetoric of change without violence, who met his end in the worst type of violence, riddled with hatred and controversy and shrouded in speculation and unanswered questions some 40 years later, we might not live in a country who can elect a black President.

When standing at the threshold, looking into the bathroom of the Boarding House and realizing that the window, that small square porthole that James Earl Ray balanced his rifle on the sill, one can feel the sorrow and shame that lingers there. Lingers from all the visitors that look and squint and realize that room 306 of the Lorraine sits across the street and on the April day, some 40 years ago, he squeezed the trigger.

1 comment:

Chris said...

What a creepy feeling to be right there. That and the Texas Book Depository would be tops in totally skin crawling places to stand.

I will have to make time for that in my Memphis trip I am going to take later. The rest of the time? You guessed it....hitting the BBQ joints. Dinner and lunch for 3 days should let me hit all the places I want!