This weekend, LA Times Travel featured an article that delved deep into the rich history of Memphis’ civil rights, unforgettable food, and rich culture.
Written by Andrew Bender and titled “America’s story hits home in Memphis, where the National Civil Rights Museum bears witness for all,” here is the story:
“This is the story of a people…. It is an American story,” read the sign by the entrance to the National Civil Rights Museum. It’s a tale “of hopes and dreams, of challenge and change.” And the story, the sign concludes, “continues today — with you.” So I already had a lump in my throat as I entered this museum of the American civil rights movement on the site of one of its defining events, the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968.
It feels right to tell this story in Memphis, a city that’s always been a crossroads: a key port on the Mississippi River and a hub for shipping, music, food, races and the history that binds them. Although Memphis is different from other crossroads, lacking, for example, the nonstop energy of New York, the dreamers of L.A. or the enveloping charm of New Orleans, the more time I’ve spent in Memphis and relaxed into its pace, music and restaurants, the more it has grown on me.
I first visited in 2012. When I returned last fall I found some welcome changes had been made in those intervening years. Among them, an extensive renovation of the Civil Rights Museum. It opened in 1991, constructed around the Lorraine Motel where King was shot, and reopened in 2014, the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
The museum covers well-known events such as Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a segregated bus, the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott and the standoff in Selma, Ala., (documented in the movie of the same name), voter registration drives and the black power salute made famous at the 1968 Olympics.
But there were many stories I hadn’t known about, such as the strike in 1968 by African American sanitation workers in Memphis demanding a living wage and safe working conditions as they paraded through the streets holding placards that read “I am a man.”
By the time I reached motel room 306, which is left as it was when King stayed there on that fateful day, it was hard not to choke up.
I’m not African American, but the museum did deliver on its promise of an American story. It poses a lot of questions, with no clear answers, about race, identity, prejudice and how to confront them. And in the months since my visit, especially with the news of the times, I’ve found myself stopped in my tracks every so often, drawn back to that moment and made to think some more.
Indeed the story does continue with me.”
To read more from Bender about traveling to Memphis, visit the LATimes.