Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lorraine Hotel, 2008



In 1990 I visited Dachau Concentration Camp in Dachau, Germany. Opened in 1933 by the Nazis as part of their efforts to exterminate Jews and others deemed by them as "unworthy", it is now a museum. At one point I was walking along a path and heard a young boy around the age of 8 or 9 ask several times in English "but didn't they (the prisoners) know they were going into gas chambers?" He was clearly trying to wrap his head around both helplessness and evil. Pure, horrid evil.

At the end of the decade, in 1999, I went to Robben Island. Eight miles from Cape Town, South Africa it was the prison where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years as a political prisoner of the apartheid government. Even in the summer the cells were cold and damp. The blinding sunlight glared off the lime quarry. Nelson Mandela has horrible cataracts in both eyes probably from being a forced laborer in the quarry.

I knew one of the places I wanted to visit during our recent family trip to Memphis, Tennessee was the National Civil Rights Museum located at the Lorraine Motel. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on the 2nd floor balcony of the motel.


In some ways it felt horribly wrong to be standing so close to where he had been murdered. Where that photo I knew so well had been taken, of him lying on the balcony with someone pressing a napkin against his head.

But they did a terrific job showing the history of slavery in the United States and the subsequent struggles for equal rights after the Civil War. There were "interpreters" throughout the museum, people dressed in period clothes who either outright explained the area (e.g. a Montgomery bus with a statue of Rosa Parks sitting in the front, a lunch counter with statues of African-Americans sitting on stools while white men jeered at them) or actually acted (one woman played a reporter on a bombed bus while another sang a gospel song Mahalia Jackson sang at the 1963 march on Washington, DC). This had the intended effect of making it come "alive" for my guys. Little lady just wanted to sit on the bus and stare at the statue of Ms. Parks.

The museum has recreated room 306 where Dr. King was staying the day he was murdered. There is a large window overlooking the balcony where he was shot and a note explaining that the blood-soaked concrete had been removed. There is a noticeable square of clean concrete in its place. Amazing Guy had gone ahead with two of the kids so I stood there looking at the spot with one of my sons, barely containing the sobs that were growing in my chest.

My seven-and-a-half-year old son kept patting my leg, asking me to read something. I finally got through it with tears streaming down my face.

"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!"
-- Martin Luther King, Jr. April 3, 1968 (the night before he died)

16 comments:

Thalia's Child said...

Oh, I am moved to tears by this post.



Thank you for sharing it.

the dragonfly said...

Yes...thank you for sharing.

Jenn in Holland said...

tears flowing here too.
Just beautiful.

Goofball said...

this is one of those places (or at least an account of it) that makes you so quiet...that gets you thinking.

It's good to now and then get quiet about things that matter.

Flower Child said...

I've been to the apartheid museum in Johannesburg and various holocaust museums/memorials around Europe/Israel - but I had no idea we had a civil rights museum in the US. Now I need to plan a road trip.

(and my word verification - "baarf")

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

This seems like a much more effective presentation than the Museum of African American History in Detroit, which has some very good exhibits, but the main room is so high tech that it's a bit unreachable in some respects.

I'd love to go there. We're going *somewhere* in April and we might visit relatives in Nashville, so I'd definitely want to check this out if we end up down South.

Great post, SMID.

lilacspecs said...

Such a moving post. I went to the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam last month and felt much the same way. You express yourself beautifully.

Jami said...

I see you standing there, staring at that blank square of concrete but seeing the blood in your mind, living for just a moment the horror of that day, the tears flowing down your face and then the tears well up in my own eyes, too. We have come so far and we have so far yet to go. Hopefully, knowing what they do of the wrongs in our past, our kids will move us a lot further in the right direction in the future, the direction we need to go.

Heather said...

Wow. What vivid writing.

cablegirl said...

What an incredibly moving moment. Thank you for sharing it.

capitolady said...

Wow, thanks so much for sharing those pictures. I am so glad your children are getting to experience history.

Jodi said...

Beautiful, beautiful post.

The summer before my senior year of high school I toured the concentration camps in poland. Although I studied for a year to prepare me for the trip, I couldn't wrap my head around the evil eitheir.

painted maypole said...

Dr. Martin Luther King was indeed a great man, who did and said amazing things, and I'm sure the museum is fascinating. I think I would get tripped up, though, as I did reading your post, knowing he was visiting his mistress at that motel.

chelle said...

I got shivers when you wrote about the balcony where he stood. Amazing.

Suzanne said...

Like Flower Child, I had no idea we had such a museum in Memphis. I've been to/through Memphis many times, and yes, I've driven by (notice I did not go IN) Graceland, but now I will have to go back for this. Thanks for posting about this - my eyes are wet, too.

Anonymous said...

let the truth live on !!!!!,frank conti,deerfield florida,U.S.A. !!!