Sometimes, I feel like you can learn things but not fully understand them. You can look at pictures of the world and the continents moving across the earth, but you really think in your mind, how can that really be possible? It’s one thing if someone tells it to you, but it’s another thing if you see it for yourself in real life.
A couple days ago, my family and I went to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. The museum is at the site of the Loraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was staying when he was assassinated.
The main thing that I learned at the museum is how hard those in the Civil Rights movement had to fight to be treated as an equal human being. Now, I had already known this. Ms. Sakeenah had given my class two amazing presentations that had a TON of amazing information. I always looked forward to the end of the day to get one of these. But I had never actually realized how bad these times were. How hard it was.
That was something that I finally saw in the National Civil Rights Museum (or the CRM, as they called it). The museum showed the struggles and the conditions that they were in. The tension between segregationists and black civil rights leaders was at its highest point. MLK had been doing back-to-back marches nonstop. There was even a picture of his last rally before he died; his friends were practically holding him up he was so exhausted! He had just woken up and had started a friendly pillow fight with his brother when he stepped outside the balcony to talk with his friends. A sniper bullet fired from the bathroom window of an apartment room across the street hit him in the neck. He later died in a nearby hospital.
The CRM had a long timeline from the beginning of slavery, to the civil war, to the Jim Crow laws, to the civil rights act. It mostly focused on the civil rights movement, though.
It had statues of people and replicas of burnt-down buildings and lots and lots of pictures. My favorite part was a replica of one of the buses that the freedom riders rode through the south before interstate buses were desegregated. Once they arrived in Alabama, they were met by an angry mob that beat the freedom riders and burned the bus they were riding on. The replica had lights on it making the bus look like it was burning. It looked so real. I read all about it.
Anyway, the main thing that I realized in the museum was how hard they fought for their freedom. There was a little corner of one of the rooms about slavery where there was a picture of the poop deck of a boat. The sick slaves were getting thrown overboard, while the healthy ones were getting whipped. Below the picture, there were statues of a bunch of slaves chained together in a row. They were sitting on their butts; their knees crouched in front of them. They were in a very small room, not even tall enough to crawl in. They had their heads low, except one was trying to get comfortable. But I knew that that was an impossible task. I felt so sorry for them and couldn’t imagine what would lead human beings to treat other human beings this way.
Another was of all the freedom riders. Like I mentioned earlier, the bus had been burned down. There was a photo of the riders jumping out of the bus, gasping for air. Another photo was of a white freedom rider and a black freedom rider. They both had gotten beaten up the moment they stepped out of one of the buses, but the white dude had gotten beaten harder, because he was a “nigger –lover.” They had knocked out his teeth and broken his arm.
After the entire timeline, stretching from the revolutionary war to the Black Panthers, we came to the bedroom Martin Luther King was staying in. Of course, the entire crime scene had been investigated and all of the furniture had been moved out, but the museum had tried to rebuild it as accurate as possible. There were two beds, a desk, a closet and a bathroom, etc. But the thing that really got me was how it affected his friends and family and the rest of the world.
There was a video at the end of the exhibit doing a short re-cap of his life, and at the end, it showed his family members crying, unable to look at the camera. I realized that this did not happen only to his family. All of the people who lost their lives, like Emmet Till, Medgar Evers, the 4 girls who died in the bombing of the Baptist Church in Birmingham, and Martin Luther King and so many more, their families had to go through the same thing. Their families had to live the rest of their lives without a mother of father, sister or brother. They were the ones who had to stay strong and not give up. They were the ones who had to realize that they had to make a change, so that this same thing wouldn’t happen to other families as well.
In school I learned that change cannot come without sacrifice, but the day that we went to the museum, I finally actually understood it.