Saturday, March 29, 2008

Lookin' at history

Whose history? Mine and not mine. Kind of surreal--and very heartbreaking. In 1968, as a white woman in Memphis, I would probably not have been near the Lorraine Motel, but that is where history happened on April 4th of that year. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated on the second floor balcony where a large white wreath now hangs. It is part of the museum that chronicles key episodes of the American civil rights movement, all the way back to 1619.

We were going to go through as quickly as possible because we had to drive all the way to Albany in southwest GA that day. It could be late at night when we arrived. Apparently we weren't in control because we had to first wait at the ticket desk and then be shuttled into a theater room for an introductory film before being held another little while as 2 large groups went through ahead of us. I decided to chill, in the context of what I was about to see, and in contrast with historically who has been holding who back, up to now. After receiving our headphones and audio tour we proceeded at our own pace. I found I actually wanted to slow down to read further and digest the extra information not highlighted on the audio.

The interpretive exhibits begin with the unremitting struggle against slavery and racism. The audio, recorded by Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, points us to significant events, people, and legal decisions. We learn more about people like W. E. B. DuBois, as well as the Ku Klux Klan, NAACP, and other organizations opposing and supporting the movement. I was not allowed to take pictures, but I wish I could show how well done the museum is and how different parts moved me to tears. (I am including photos from the museum brochure, post card, and Southern Living article.)

I climb on board a Montgomery city bus on display and there is Rosa Parks (statue) sitting where she doesn't belong. When I sit down, the bus driver's angry voice repeatedly tells us to move to the back. That is not the only bus represented. We also see a replica of the firebombed Greyhound bus which was destroyed in Alabama. The Freedom Riders, who were protesting illegal segregation on buses and trains, were beaten and arrested as they got off the bus. President Kennedy sent Federal Marshals to protect a second team of freedom riders that were dispatched.

One of my favorite displays was a full-size Woolworth's lunch counter where a sit-in was going on. The audio and video show how viciously the opposition fought to keep the counter segregated. I have to say I was embarrassed to be white and wanted to drop to my knees and cry in grief and repentance for what my race did/does to another race. The sickening thing is how much was justified for Christian reasons!
There were so many protests and so many issues involved: decent jobs and decent wages, admission to schools and universities, voting rights and participation, urban dilemmas of unemployment, poverty, and hunger. Marchers and protesters were at times beaten, jailed, and even fire-hosed. Governors and police chiefs refused to provide protection and were often responsible for orders to stop protesters in violent ways. It seems like such madness looking back at the 50's and 60's, but when segregation was the norm it must have been terrifying for the white community to think of how their way of life (and control) was being threatened. --Let them into your schools today and tomorrow they will be marrying your daughters. (OMG!)


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