Wednesday, 28 August 2013

I Have a Dream

Today is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech in Washington. All the media coverage has got me thinking about my visit to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. I have been working on a book...a family travel memoir. Today I will post parts of the chapter titled Motherhood and Mayhem in Memphis, along with a few photos.

Who knows where parenthood will lead us? At one point in the spring of 2007, I found myself sitting alone on a plane heading for Memphis, Tennessee. I was on my way to visit my twenty-five year old daughter, who was living in Memphis for three months while she trained as a social work intern at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

From the safety of our home in Ottawa she had arranged to rent an apartment in a secure building, close to the hospital. However, upon arrival in Memphis, she discovered that the “secure” building wasn’t always locked, she was the only occupant of the top floor, and locals advised her that the short walk from her building to the hospital was very dangerous.  During her first weekend, there were seven murders in the downtown core. The four years she had spent living in the Queen’s University “student ghetto” had not prepared her for the perils of living in downtown Memphis. In Kingston, she and the five women she had shared a house with, had never bothered to lock their door! After her first three weeks in Memphis, she still sounded downright scared, so I arranged a visit.
It was worry that brought me to Memphis. For the first time in my life, I arrived alone in a strange city, rented a car, and drove in the dark, without a phone, towards an unfamiliar downtown. Like a riled mother bear, I was ready to do anything to protect my daughter.  With my arrival safely accomplished, we both relaxed and put the reason for the visit on the back burner.  I did the usual things that we all do when visiting our university-age children – I took her out for dinners and we went grocery shopping.
This weekend was the first time that we had been together, just the two of us, as tourists. Memphis offered many attractions that we both enjoyed, among them Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum. Although Elvis Presley and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were icons of my youth and not hers, she too was both entertained and moved by the displays in both places.
Memphis is a city of contrasts, with its reputation of being both the Mecca of American music and yet one of its most dangerous cities. A walk along Main St. on that sunny Saturday, gave us another example of the duality that is Memphis. While trolley cars and horse drawn carriages ferried tourists along this thoroughfare, we were otherwise alone, with no other pedestrians. It seemed as if we were walking through a ghost town, with its abundance of boarded up storefronts.
At one point, we turned a corner and it seemed as if I was walking into a history book. There, at the bottom of a grassy hill, was the Lorraine Motel; the scene of that famous balcony photo; the site of Dr. King’s assassination. 

The National Civil Rights Museum’s architects have kept the motel as the facade of the museum, complete with a couple of old, white Cadillacs parked in front. 

The displays and exhibits chronicle the significant milestones of the civil rights struggle. The climax of the tour comes when you find yourself in a hallway, with a vantage point into both Dr. King’s hotel room and the famous balcony. 

From there, you proceed across the street to the former rooming house, where the shots originated. 

This too is now part of this powerful museum, a continuation of Dr. King’s legacy. We left there, profoundly moved by what we had experienced.

No comments:

Post a Comment