- Remembering Memphis on MLK Day January 16, 2017
I never took US History in school. It’s a long story, but suffice to say, I’m a little short in the history department. I knew about Martin Luther King, Jr. of course. I’d watched the video of his “I have a dream” speech in Washington and I’d seen the picture of men standing on a balcony, pointing up to where they believed the shot that took him away was fired. I was three years old when MLK died so with no personal memory of his life and death, I have only my patchy video memory to go by.
I was in Memphis for a conference in 2005. I’d never been to Tennessee before, but I felt a kinship for the state since my father was born in Oneida, a tiny town north of Knoxville. Memphis is about as far from Oneida as you can get and still be in Tennessee, but it was closer than I’d been to his birthplace before and it held the added benefit of being the home of my dad’s favorite singer, Elvis Presley.
I found myself with just enough time between events to take a walk down Front Street. I visited the Peabody Hotel, made famous by ducks that ride in the elevators and splash in the lobby fountain. Obligatory t-shirt tucked in my bag, I kept walking, soaking in the feel of jazz and early rock and roll that radiates from these streets. I had made random turns, not entirely sure where I was or where I might be going, when I caught sight of the Motel Lorraine and it stopped me in my tracks.
Because of my spotty education, I didn’t know that Dr. King had been assassinated in Memphis. I associated him with Atlanta, where he lived and where he is buried. I associated him with Birmingham, Selma and the March on Washington. I don’t know why I had no memory of his death taking place in Tennessee, but turning that corner and seeing the Motel Lorraine standing sentinel on the next block hit me with an almost physical force. Her colors are vivid, out of place with the black and white images in my memory, but they drew me as surely as they must have drawn customers so many years ago.
I don’t know how long I stood looking up at that sad balcony or staring at the cars, which I’ve since learned are not historically tied to the event, but were placed there to inspire thought about that tragic and terrible afternoon. A group slowly formed around me and invited me to join them for a guided tour of the National Civil Rights Museum, which stands across the street. I find myself at a loss for words to describe the emotional impact I felt in 2005 and his words are especially relevant today, though I wish I could say they were not. I wish his dream had been fully realized now, forty-nine years after his death.
We’ve come so far, as I could see from the exhibits at the National Civil Rights Museum. Sadly, we still have miles to travel.
What I’m Reading
Toad in the Hole (The Rachael O’Brien Chronicles #4) by Paisley Ray. This is my first book by this author and I don’t normally jump into the middle of a series because I find I miss many of the character nuances and back-story that take place in the early books. One goal I set for myself this year was to read through the books I’ve been stashing away on my Kindle and this one has been there for quite awhile. I must be honest, I’ve only just started so I can’t tell you yet whether I think you should give it a try but at least I’ve learned what goes into the English dish that gives the book its name.