I originally posted this blog 2 years ago, in February for Black History Month, but it feels all too important not to share today on Martin Luther King Junior Day. Visiting The Lorraine Motel turned Civil Rights History museum was one of the most impactful trips on my life. It’s yet another reminder that the civil rights movement is not that far removed from us. My parents were 9 years old when MLK was assassinated. Both sets of grandparents were in their late 30s. I think we quickly forget how short of a lifespan this country has had, and how close we are to the shittiest parts of our history.
I did tweak and edit this blog from it’s original, thankfully I’ve grown in my writing. But please enjoy that one time I cried – sobbed – at the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN.
Black History Month is almost over, #sad. I mean, that by no means, means we can’t celebrate African American History 24/7, but I do like saying #blackhistorymonth. So these next two posts will be the last in my Category Is: Black History Month. Also sorry about the clickbait title, but like a girl’s gotta do, what a girl’s gotta do. – Is it really that clickbaity? I did in fact cry in Memphis, it’s not a lie.
In July, I had the honor of attending a student leadership seminar put on by St Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Part of the 2-day seminar was a trip to the National Civil Rights Museum. The museum was built in the Lorrain Motel, the motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated at in 1968. It was truly one of the most moving experiences. I had obviously learned about the horrors of Jim Crow and the pre-Civil Rights Act America, but for some reason, seeing the museum made it click in my head. Many people forget that we aren’t that far removed from the Civil Rights Movement, my grandparents, my father’s parents, were alive, they were young adults, young children. My grandparents and other relatives had to live every day in a segregated America. I never got to meet my grandparents on my father’s side, they both passed before I was born, but I wish so badly that I could go back and talk to them about their experiences.
Because of the Civil Rights movement, my parents were allowed to marry. Interracial marriage had been illegal in several states until the Supreme Court ruled against it in 1967. In 1967, my parents were 8. They were alive. They didn’t know each other, they didn’t know that they would be married with three children 50 years later, but they were alive. Think about that? We talk about marriage equality in terms of same-sex couples, but more often than not the conversation stops there.
The National Civil Rights Museum is probably the number one place I have ever been. Words cannot express how moved I was by seeing all of the things I learned about in school (AND SO MUCH MORE) in one place. There were rooms dedicated to the student lunch counter sit-ins, Rosa Parks and the bus boycotts, the freedom rides, and so much more.
By far the most fantastically moving exhibit was the room where Martin Luther King Jr stayed the day he was assassinated. It is set up just like it was that day, with newspapers, ashtrays, room service trays, and more. I walked in and everyone was just silent. There were probably 10 people in the exhibit and not a single person was talking. Most of the people in the room were white, and I’m not entirely sure if they were moved the same way that myself and the other black girl in the room was. We looked at each other, and I just know she was feeling the same way I was. I can’t even begin to explain my thoughts and feelings at that moment, other than just pure awe. It wasn’t necessarily a good feeling, it wasn’t necessarily a bad feeling, but it was awe. I was crying, to say the least. It was incredibly powerful to see the exact spot where such a key member of the civil rights movement was killed.
Someone that was so viciously hated and respected at the same time. Someone who changed my life as I know it, before I was even a thought in the universe. Someone who set the path for generations of black Americans to come. Someone who had a dream, who’s dream is still a work in progress all these years later. We all know who Martin Luther King Jr is, but I’m not quite sure that everyone grasps the concept that he was shot to death for wanting a better life for people that look like me. Equal fucking rights. That’s all black people want. We want to be EQUAL. Not better than. Simply, equal. Equal to our white counterparts. But there are people in this world, so many fucking people, that can’t and won’t grasp that concept. They will always see us as lesser than.
The Civil Rights Movement is something that directly has impacted my life today. As an Black American I am allowed to go to school, to work, to exist in a world so much better than those of MLK, Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, Emmett Till, and so many more. We don’t live in a perfect America, nowhere near it, but it’s better, it’s so much better. It’s a stupid work in progress, but to think of the sacrifces that people like John Lewis and Angela Davis made in order for my life to be better, is mind blowing. Sacrifices such as their life, whether it was death or time in prison. Sacrifices so that we could, again, be equal.