Memphis

I left T.O. Fuller early in the morning without much observation, but it was a nice enough place. As an aside: I’ve been using three sources to find campsites/parking places. They are freecampsites.net, the Campendium app/website, and the iOverlander app. I’ve been writing reviews, fairly faithfully, on the first two sites. I figure I may as well give back. Not that anyone will care, surely, but my handle on those sites for reviews is foxylikeaturtle.

In Memphis I headed first to the Bass Pro Shop in the Pyramid, which used to be a basketball stadium, and was suggested as a possible spot for overnight parking, although I decided against it. I was told it was an oddity not to be missed, and I suppose that’s true, although my feelings are certainly mixed. I paid $10 (plus tax) to ride an elevator to the top of the thing: the tallest freestanding elevator in the country, we are told, and its walls are floor-to-ceiling glass. Fun fact: I am scared of heights. This was possibly the most horrifying experience I’ve ever paid $10 for. At the top there’s a bar/restaurant with amazing views, including observation decks you can walk on outside; these have GLASS FLOORS, you guys, and they CREAK underfoot. Definitely the most horrifying experience of my trip to date. I do it for you, though. Here’s a picture I took from up there of the Hernando de Soto Bridge across the Mississippi.

I also wandered around the interior of the Bass Pro Shop, which is a weird shrine to commercialism and a brand of outdoorsiness that I guess is not the one I was brought up in (although I could certainly have indulged in some of the gear). There’s a swamp in the middle. It has fish in it – bass, I assume? and some truly enormous ones I’m told are sturgeon. There are ducks – live ones – as well as live ALLIGATORS, you guys. In the middle of the store. Also taxidermied deer, elk, pigs, bears, more ducks, and who knows what. It’s… a scene. There is an “old timey” store selling fresh-made fudge, and a lodge, an archery and pistol range, a museum, and an aquarium, apparently, right in there too. Very strange.

And on to the other end of the spectrum: the real reason I’m in Memphis (which was out of my way, generally speaking) was to visit the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot.

This was, what, my fourth major civil rights museum/memorial in the last week; and I confess there is a diminishing return. This experience is emotionally exhausting. And I say that with apologies, because I feel the weight of guilt for not having had to live any of the horrors that I’m reading about and viewing. But it’s the simple truth, that as I take in these atrocities – murders, criminal justice and other systemic failures, disrespect, mutilations, denials of basic rights – the parts of me that feel horror get worn out. And I feel less at the fourth visit than I did at the first.

Which is not to say I feel nothing.

I am feeling more and more familiar with some of the stories told in each of these museums: Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycotts; the Freedom Riders and the several places where they were most badly abused; lunch counter sit-ins; the Children’s Crusade in Birmingham. Slavery and Jim Crow. Partly because of my (shameful) exhaustion, and partly (in this case) because the place was mobbed by school groups, I moved quickly through those exhibits. I was glad to find some unique content, though. For one thing, the Memphis museum follows the civil rights movement out of the 1960s and into Black Power and the Black Panther Party.

I appreciated that. And, unsurprisingly, there was a focus here on the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike, which is what MLK was in town for when he was killed. This was not a story I’d encountered at any of the Alabama museum sites, so I was glad to slow down and take it in.

And then there is the feature of this location: the restored and maintained rooms that MLK and his associates occupied on the fateful night of April 4, 1968.

I took several pictures because, I guess, it felt so big. It also felt like voyeurism. Is it okay that we are all peering into this room, with its unmade bed, cigarette butts in the ashtray and dirty dishes, half-drunk cup of coffee sitting there as if someone will return for it at any minute? (This is a reconstructed scene, of course.) I felt a little dirty and a lot guilty, but I looked.

Across the street, the museum’s second building occupies the boarding house where the shot that killed MLK “allegedly” (they still have to say this?!) came from. We get to see the view of the balcony that the shooter saw.

the shooter’s view

I am exhausted, you guys. It’s too much. And again with my guilt: I’m exhausted just by looking? Shame on us.

4 thoughts on “Memphis

  1. Exhausting: well that’s history, isn’t it – especially when it is the ‘recovered’ history of the oppressed, the silenced, the victims. Condensing, compressing the stories of so many, over such time, into comprehensible form, is all hard to accomplish & hard to absorb. But we must, do all that. Blessed are the authors, photographers, film makers, curators, archivists – the artists who enable this process; who ensure history’s lessons are accessible, and survive for those who will listen. That’s so important, the personally challenging part, the listening; and learning. So you are doing well.

    Doing it your way, condensing further by taking in so many sources in so little time, offers unusual perspective. Could you comment on the demographics of those you have seen at all the places? Cross-section of citizens? self-selected devotees? foreign tourists? young & old? race/color/class? Not ALL of those queries! But what did you notice?

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    1. Good questions. I’ve done some observing, but taken no notes, so this is from memory. I’m impressed at the diversity overall. Black folks are overrepresented, which is unsurprising, but not so badly as I maybe expected. Young and old, and (from what I guess!) from all over geographically – but mostly domestic, not foreign. An older, crunchy-hippie type of white folk (not unlike my parents), wearing Amnesty International t-shirts, is a well-represented type. Lots of school groups, overwhelmingly Black kids. White kids in smaller groups. Again, overall I’m impressed. But it definitely occurred to me that those who most need these lessons are not the ones attending.

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