Civil Rights Museum

The Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated in 1968 is now home to the National Civil Rights Museum. I know Memphis is more known for music and being the home of the blues, but this was what I really wanted to see. 

Google told us to plan to spend 2 hours here, and just over 3 hours later we emerged, blinking, into the ridiculous sunlight and heat. But it was definitely money well spent and an excellent Museum. 

There was an excellent touring exhibition which explored the role of New Orleans in slave trading (the exhibition started in New Orleans). Unfortunately no photography was allowed in there. 

From there we had a room exploring the transatlantic slave trade and the history of resistance and abolitionism until the end of the Civil War. Particularly poignant were the bronze mannequins of slaves shackled as if on the Atlantic crossing. 

Then the Museum properly started with a film about the Civil Rights movement and invited you into the museum itself which started where Reconstruction failed and explained the history of the Jim Crow laws, segregation, and the struggle for Civil Rights up to the present day. 

This all brought back my History A-level where we studied Civil Rights from 1865-1980, so almost everything in the museum was familiar to me from my studies. However, it was almost all new to Tom who didn’t know most of the stories about the counter sit-ins, the freedom rides and the children’s marches. 

I think we both found the description of the doll test particularly saddening. This was used to prove that segregation in schools harmed black students self esteem. When given a choice of doll to play with, almost all children, white or black, chose a white doll because the other one was bad in some way. 

The museum led up to a really moving area talking about the March on Washington and the famous ‘I have a dream’ speech. 

And then it took you to the reconstructed rooms in the motel where Martin Luther King was killed. Following that it went on to look at the struggles since and acknowledged the story isn’t over. 

All in all a really good Museum, which I think reminded me why I found all of this so interesting at A-level. If I had to level a criticism it would be the one Tom reminded me that I grumbled about as we went around. From this museum you would assume that abolition of the slave trade and of slavery itself was an entirely American idea and they led the world in it. There was no mention of any other abolition movements except one brief one linked to a story of a slave rebellion aboard a ship where they headed to a British Caribbean Island because they would be free there. Perhaps some knowledge of Wilberforce et al wouldn’t go amiss!

In the lobby was this amazing sculpture representing the uphill struggle, not yet completed.  Says it all. 


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