It has taken me several days to try and write about that which is stuck in my head and heart. I am still not sure I can find the words to say what I want to say, but I cannot hold all the emotion in any longer.
I tagged along on a conference that Mike was attending in Memphis. We decided to walk down to the National Civil Rights Museum and come across a 70s looking sign indicating "Lorraine Motel". Mike is beside himself as this is a place he has wanted to visit. I honestly had no idea that the museum was attached to the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.
We turn the corner and immediately see the balcony on which Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot. We both pause and our talking ceases.
We decide to tour the Civil Rights Museum, sans audio headphones, and I was not prepared at all for what I experienced. I begin reading all that is inscribed along the displays with large oversized photos along the walls. Several quotes make me pause and think about how applicable they are to today and I take photos of them.
The historical display of hatred left me speechless. I read nothing new, but seeing the photos, hearing audio clips of the time, and "being there" penetrated deep into my heart and mind that I am still trying to wrap my mind around the haunted presence.
The museum starts with the earliest slave revolts over 400 years ago and depicts the "Unremitting Struggle" from 1619-1865. I turn around to the next exhibit and am aghast at the KKK outfit glaring at me from the center of the wall. In this "Strategies for Change" exhibit I am reminded that 4 million African Americans were freed as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation and the North having won the Civil War but, Black codes and Jim Crow laws emerged as a way to keep former slaves inferior.
The next several exhibits tell me the story of protests and organizations that fought for a freedom that should never have been not a freedom. By this time I am filled with pain for what has occurred in our history.
At this point in the museum, I see a bus. Stepping onto a bus I am struck by the vision of Rosa Parks, clutching her purse and hear her nicely refusing to move. Standing there next to her seated on the seat, my mind and body are transported to another place and time. It is wrong.
My heart is heavy and continues to ache as I continue through the museum....the Woolworth lunch counter sit-in, Freedom Rides, James Meredith, The Albany Movement, Birmingham- Project C- Confrontation, a replica of MLK in the Birmingham Jail, March on Washington, Freedom Summer of 1964, Bloody Sunday, March Against Fear, the development of the Poor People's Campaign in Chicago, and finally Memphis.
By this time, Mike and I are touring the museum on our own speaking rarely. Nothing is said as we enter Room 306 from inside the Lorrain Motel. I stand there frozen in time. My heart and head are a mix of emotions. The depth of the cruelty of the past several hundred years and the tragedy of 1968 touch deep into my soul as I stand there viewing the spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot. All the photos that I have seen of this day enter my mind and where I am becomes a black and white version captured in time. The past becomes alive in me and I stand there silent.
Eventually we cross the street. I am honestly not sure what we are going to see until I enter the exhibit. I am not prepared at all to be standing at the window where James Earl Ray shot Martin Luther King, Jr. The actual evidence found at the scene is there...clothing, beer can, the gun, hair follicles.... it is almost too much for the mind to process.
I never expected to feel so much touring the National Civil Rights Museum. I am still trying to find the words to share my emotions. I cannot leave there and not be changed. The tragedy, injustice of the past, which I believe still lingers in the present. I have sat here for days questioning myself over and over....so now what?
I cannot make up for a past that I was not part of it, but I still share sorrow that it ever happened, but Sarah you saw all this, you felt this, this touch deep into a part of you, now what?
I vow that my girls will learn to love and respect others, seeing them for who they are, not the color of their skin, where they live, or what they believe. I vow that I will show compassion and teach the girls to help others. I vow that I will leave every place I go better. I vow that I will try to bless others.
It is just a start of taking that which I felt and doing something with it. There is nothing that can erase what happened, but I also know that I cannot "have been there" and not want to do something about it.