Sunday, April 21, 2013

CIVIL RIGHTS MUSEUM AND FREEDOM'S SISTERS.

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Martin Luther King Jr. and his cortege stayed at the Loraine Hotel in Memphis  numerous times. They always used the same rooms, #306 and #308.
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Looking up at the balcony where he was shot, the preserved wreath still hangs there. Cars or replicas of those used by King and his group are still parked in the lot beneath them.
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From the balcony, you can peek into the rooms the group used. Not fancy digs. Just typical hotel rooms of the times.
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Also from the balcony, you can see the boarding house from which James Earl Raye shot him. It now houses the major exhibits of the National Civil Rights Museum.
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During the investigation, it was determined that Raye had to have stood in the bathtub to shoot King. The room is glass encased, the window left open partway as Raye left it.
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After the shooting, King lies dying on the balcony, others point to where the shot came from. One of the members of the coalition removed a pack of cigarettes from King’s pocket so his wife and kids would not know he had taken up smoking again because of the stress. I was shocked to be reminded he died at the tender age of 39 years old. He repeatedly told his friends that he would not live through this struggle.
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Martin Luther King Jr. was only 27 years old when he decided to preach and impeach the injustices suffered by black Americans. He didn’t know Rosa Parks, but her famous refusal to get off the bus drew King to Memphis and thus began an unstoppable movement to right the wrongs done to American Blacks. (Unfortunately, the struggle for equality is not over.)
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The Press recognized King as a special person. Not only charismatic, but a soon-to be icon from whom  black Americans would take strength and carry on the fight, and they did.
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The Museum has many pictures and a time line of the horrific struggle of enslaved peoples. We sometimes need reminders of the shameful part of our history, that it not to be swept under the rug as they tried to do in Germany with the Holocaust. I was amazed how much I didn’t know, or didn’t remember.
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I was also positively impressed by the thoroughness of the investigation and the evidence used to convict James Earl Raye. Black Americans know that the FBI did it right and they got the man who shot King.
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I was stunned to learn that they almost missed getting him. This little gun was found on him at a London Airport and because of it, he didn’t get to disappear somewhere and never be found. I also learned that others were  involved in King’s death. Raye escaped from prison with help; he suddenly had a bank account of $100,000; he seamlessly got professional identities and methods of subterfuge and a car without holding a job after his escape.  The conspirators have never been found or identified after years and years of trying,  and Raye didn’t tell.
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Rosa Parks was a quiet, dignified woman who worked long hours and rode the public bus system to work and back. She had had an encounter with a bus driver the first time she resisted giving up her seat. The driver pulled and shoved her and threatened to strike her before making her leave the bus. I had NO IDEA that was how things were done. I always thought blacks had to move to the colored section at the back of the bus and give up their seats to whites if they needed them. The second encounter, she was sitting in the colored section and a white  man was standing. Four black people were ordered off the bus so one white man could sit down. Rosa refused politely to move. The driver called the police and they told her she could be arrested. She calmly said, “You may do so.”

King asked the black community of Birmingham, Alabama to boycott riding the buses, which they did for 381 days. Civil Rights attorneys were knocking on Rosa Park’s door. They had a solid case against the system and ran with it and won.
King repeatedly returned to Memphis working for fair wages for sanitation workers; segregated restaurants, back door entrances for black workers. He led freedom marches.  And, the rest is history, as they say.
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Did I know there were black men lynched and kept in a state of fear?  Yes. Did I know there were over 700 cases documented?  I was horrified even now to learn that. A special exhibit from the Smithsonian was in the building, entitled Freedom’s Sisters. It is about the many courageous black women who contributed greatly to the emancipation of blacks in our country.
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Not many women of any color would have the courage of Fannie Lou Hamer, who was  brutally beaten by police,  arrested, attacked by dogs. But she kept on fighting for the right to vote.
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This was one of the demeaning tests used for blacks who attempted to go to the polls.
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I never learned about Harriet Tubman until my grandson studied her in grammar school. She assisted in freeing over 800 slaves at risk of her life.
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There are her modern counterparts, Shirley Chisholm, Barbara Jordan, Constance Baker and 20 others enshrined here. Don’t miss it if you get to Memphis.
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We left the museum and took lunch at South Of Beale, a restaurant that uses as much organic and local source food as possible. I’d never seen a receipt where they ask you if you wish to donate a dollar to the farmers cooperative who provide their food. I canceled my appointment with the acupuncturist since I felt better in the morning. We decided to walk around the historic arts district, a short walk of about five or six blocks.
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Jim had read about the Arcade Restaurant on the National Historic Register. It opened in 1919 and has been the site of many movies. We peeked in.
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It resembles the 1950′s style.
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Kitty corner across from it is another 100-year-old building, Earnestine & Hazel’s Sundry Store which also had a bar, a counter and a gambling den and bordello upstairs. It too has been used in a slew of movies.

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The red lights are still hanging from the ceiling and in one lamp we saw.
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The rooms are very scruffy and everything smells of antiseptic.
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The paint, where there is paint, looks like it has been applied with a broom.
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The upstairs is still used. One locked door claimed it is the office. A room with  piano and bar and many card playing rooms of definite character. The band that played here is Twelve Mellow Fellows.
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In the restaurant part, the bartender pointed out some famous blues players but they are all strangers to me.DSC04730 (Copy)

This is Howlin’ Wolf.. There were plenty of pictures of famous people who’ve been here. Quite a place!
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This is the arts district and we expect to return.
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Here the meters, garbage cans, fences and old walls are painted to beautify the area. Kind of fun.
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The area runs a number of modern and kind of antiquee trolleys. Some guy makes a living giving people rides in a Cinderella Pumpkin. We took it easy and it was a fun day and relatively pain-free.

For a look into my album for the day, click on the link below:
https://picasaweb.google.com/106530979158681190260/2013420CivilRightsMuseum

1 comment:

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