Friday, May 22, 2009

Day Four: Memphis, TN - Oxford, MS

Miles traveled: 150
Miles total: 1050

We devoted most of today to our tour of the National Civil Rights Museum at the site of the Lorraine Motel, where King was murdered on April 4, 1968. It's certainly the most comprehensive museum of the movement; I only wish that we had had time to include other great Memphis museums related to Civil Rights, such as the Rock'N'Soul museum.

The National CR Museum provides an excellent overview of the traditionally-defined trajectory of the movement. Students always express frustration over the lack of women and gender-based analysis in the museum (they are my students, after all!). They also quickly realize that it portrays the "hotspots" of the movements (the events that received national media attention) and tells little about other areas. They also quickly see that the very site of the museum means that MLK will be (overly?) emphasized; they always like to point out the mere passing mention given to Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and other Black Power-related movements.

The museum contains a rotating photography gallery, and this year's exhibit was stunningly powerful. The exhibit, "Chilean Photography and Human Rights," depicts images from the military dictatorship of Gen. Pinochet in Chile from 1973-1989. They represent a striking picture of life and strife under Pinochet's rule.

Also new this year was the short documentary The Witness. This half-hour film creates a real emotional and intellectual connection to MLK's assassination. It makes clear his commitment to economic equality and does not shy away from the fact that he was killed in large part because he was taking action on the issue of the redistribution of wealth in American society in order for everyone to be able to live a life of dignity.

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