August 17, 2005

Walking in Memphis

Yesterday I was in Memphis for a meeting. Everyone keeps asking me if I met with Elvis. In fact, I didn’t see a single fat, skinny, young or old Elvis. Apparently I was one day late for the anniversary of Elvis’ death and the conclusion of Elvis Week . If you dressed like Elvis you could get lots of free meals. The cab driver pointed out that there were Elvis’ (Elvi?) representing 49 countries at the International Convention and it was not a pretty site.

I was actually there for a meeting with the National Civil Rights Museum which gets lost in the Elvis shuffle of Memphis. The Museum is a group of historically significant buildings in the arts district of South Main Street. It encompasses the Lorraine Motel, the site of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. The Motel is preserved, and if you were blinded by the Elvis buzz you could mistakenly look for the registration office.

This is one of the most engaging and impactful museums I have experienced. In fact, it is more of an experience than something that you passively look at – like so many other cultural and historical institutions.

Mission: The National Civil Rights Museum, located at the Lorraine Motel, the site of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination, chronicles key episodes of the American civil rights movement and the legacy of this movement to inspire participation in civil and human rights efforts globally, through our collections, exhibitions, and educational programs.

Imagine sitting on a bus next to a life-sized sculpture of Rosa Parks with a sculpture of the bus driver turning to confront her. I couldn’t make it past the driver. The turn of his body, the look he was giving her, the dignity with which she presented herself, It was as though I were there in the moment and I was ashamed.

I recommend you put on your blue suede shoes and wander on down to Memphis, skip Graceland and instead enter an institution that addresses the global struggle for civil and human rights.