In honor of MLK day next Monday, today I’m sharing my husband’s story of visiting the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN with my oldest daughter last spring. My daughter’s school organized a fifth-grade class field trip to the National Civil Rights Museum which is located in the heart of Memphis – about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from our hometown of Nashville. Due to our busy schedule, my husband Brad was excited to travel with our oldest (10-years-old at the time) while I stayed back with our younger two girls. I asked him to write about their experience visiting this powerful museum right here in Tennessee and I can’t wait to travel to Memphis soon to experience the museum for myself with our family later this year – especially since this year marks the 50th year since Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Read all about their incredible adventure visiting this space from my husband’s perspective:
This was a unique adventure because I got to travel, alone, with my oldest daughter and experience the National Civil Rights Museum for the first time myself – but also while observing my 10-year-old as she begins to learn and truly absorb this important piece of our country’s history. The museum is impactful and powerful at any age, and I believe it is worth a cross-country drive, let alone a short drive from Nashville. We are lucky to have this in Tennessee.
The tour is intense from the start and maintains this intensity using its unique way of storytelling. We were brought along the chronological journey from the slave trade all the way to the assassination of Dr. King. Through the use of bronze sculptures, we were able to look into the eyes of defeated men trapped under the deck of a boat crossing the Atlantic, sit next to Rosa Parks on the bus and feel her need for strength as we saw – which my daughter commented on – the look of hate and anger coming from the bus driver. Using full-size replicas of vehicles, we were able to walk next to the Greyhound bus used in the Freedom Riders protest that was set on fire by the Ku Klux Klan. We walked by an enormous garbage truck that serves as a symbol for inequality where black workers died due to lack of safety standards. This was the cause that brought Dr. King to the national stage in the civil rights movement.
These storytelling tools brought us into the stories of the civil rights movement and allowed us to internalize them. This seems especially true for children – and specifically my daughter – who are less inclined to read their way through a museum, I have found.
Another great storytelling tool that the museum uses is, well, personal stories! We were able to hear from many people that suffered through the Jim Crow era by picking up a telephone and choosing from people reflecting on their own experiences. For example, one story tells of how a lynching in Mississippi moved him to become an activist. Another woman tells of how she took a stand against sexual harassment in Arkansas.
Finally, we were left at the end of the tour at the actual balcony of the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was assassinated, looking into the room where he was staying at the time. Standing on the balcony with my 10-year-old daughter, I felt an understanding that this struggle is both hundreds of years old and also still very much underway in our country today. With the events in Charlottesville last year, I was reminded of how many people sacrificed their lives to gain equality, and why we must only keep moving forward and strive for change in order to teach our children to do the same.
This Spring – April 4, 2018 – will mark 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The Museum will have events and projects throughout the year to encourage activism and spark change.
*Photo Credit: All photos were taken by my 10-year-old at the museum.