Memphis and the power of resistance

 

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I walk somberly with others on the 2nd floor of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. I see the room where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stayed and his suitcase with a copy of Strength to Love in it. I look out the window to the balcony. A wreath marks the spot where he was assassinated on April 4, 1968. There is a spirit here that transcends any history I’ve ever read out of a book.

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The motel is now a Civil Rights Museum. I see the mural, I am a Man symbolizing the 200 workers who marched during the Sanitation Workers Strike in Memphis, protesting the pattern of abuse of black workers. Martin Luther King, Jr. was in Memphis to support those workers. In the “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” speech he gave the night before he was killed, Martin Luther King, Jr. said,

Now, let me say as I move to my conclusion that we’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. If it means leaving work, if it means leaving school — be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.

 

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I continue through the museum. I watch the videos of fire hoses and police dogs in Birmingham and the forces of resistance across the country through strikes, marches, sit-ins and school integration. And the adults and children who were battered and beaten. And those who were killed. “Either we go up together, or we go down together.” I mourn. I am quiet that night, reflecting on the power of resistance.

The next day, the power of music as resistance becomes clear. The Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis holds recordings of musicians who were born on plantations, musicians who came from sharecropper families, musicians who crossed racial lines to create new sounds reflecting their own times and places; who sought ways to make sense of our world through the blues.

 

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The historic Beale Street in Memphis, created in 1841 but peaking in the 1920s, was a complex and changing place. In the beginning, most of the shop owners were white, utilizing the Mississippi River for trading.  In the 1860’s, Beale Street became a gathering place for blacks across the South with many musicians playing there. But, only whites were welcome to play at the city’s Overton Park and the zoo there was open to blacks on only one day of the week.

Robert Reed Church, Sr., the freed slave of a riverboat captain understood what it was to be excluded. As a wealthy African-American businessman, he created Church’s Park and Auditorium on Beale Street in 1899 to provide a place for the black community to meet, listen to music, swim, and enjoy recreation. By the early 1900s, many more African Americans owned businesses along Beale Street. Church’s auditorium was renamed Beale Avenue Auditorium.

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The picture below is of the pool built as part of Church’s Park so black children had a place to swim.

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In 1964, a motel manager in St. Augustine, Florida, poured muriatic acid into a pool to get a group of integrated swimmers to leave. Here’s an excerpt about that time and its connection to Martin Luther King, Jr. from the webpage http://rarehistoricalphotos.com/motel-manager-pouring-acid-water-black-people-swam-pool-1964/)

On June 11, 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr was arrested for trespassing at the Monson Motor Lodge after being asked to leave from its segregated restaurant. This (and other things) helped spurn on a group of protesters, black and white, to jump into the pool as a strategically planned event to end segregation at motel pools. The pool at this motel was designated “white only.” Whites who paid for motel rooms invited blacks to join them in the motel pool as their guests. This swim-in was planned by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and two associates. The motel manager, Jimmy Brock, in an effort to break up the party, poured a bottle of muriatic acid into the pool, hoping the swimmers would become scared and leave.

Things do change. A few days ago, Simone Manuel became the first African-American female swimmer to ever win an individual gold medal. When Simone was eleven, she asked her mother a question many African American competitive swimmers have asked, “Why aren’t there more swimmers that look like me?”

 

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This week, Simone said she looks forward to the day when she is known simply as a champion. “I would like there to be a day when there are more of us and it’s not Simone, the black swimmer, because the title ‘black swimmer’ makes it seem like I’m not supposed to be able to win a gold medal or I’m not supposed to be able to break records. (Quote from: For Simone Manuel, Gold Ripples Beyond the Pool.)

“Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” said Martin Luther King, Jr. Let us also remember that we each have a responsibility to use the power of resistance to create the kind of change that bends the arc more quickly. Lives depend upon it.

Post by Diane

 

 

 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Cherokee described these mountains as shaconage, meaning “blue, like smoke.” The misty clouds dance around them creating an ever changing landscape. The park is home to more tree species than in northern Europe, 1,500 flowering plants, dozens of native fish, and over 200 species of birds and 60 of mammals. A richness of biological diversity and cultures. This post is displaying landscapes. Soon will follow a post about the people and history of this area.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is made up of 522,427 acres that straddle the border between Tennessee and North Carolina.  We entered from the northern area and these pictures are from Cades Cove and the road to Newfound Gap. Enjoy!

Rest stop. Allowing time for our souls to catch up to our bodies.

 

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“I’m sick of Google Maps,” I said with frustration. My calm partner, driving the truck pulling our travel trailer, looked quizzically at me. “Just once, I’d like to know where something is without having to look it up,” I whined. We’d been on the road for 4 weeks. Newness every day. Wonderful and exhausting. I needed to rest.

When to stop and how to rest is a question I have wrestled with most of my life

Along our 2,600 miles of travel, we’ve experienced a wide diversity of rest area stops. They differ in how they are spaced, what they look like, and what they offer.

Here’s one from Idaho. Up front and center are “rules.”

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The last thing I want to see when it’s time to rest are rules telling me how to do it. Most often the “voice” of rules comes from inside me, nudging me that I’m resting too long; there is work to be done.

Rest areas, particularly when you newly enter a state, often have flags on display. Proclaiming identity. You have entered “this” place which is different from “other places.”

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When I truly enter a state of rest within myself, it is radically different from my daily life. How radically would my life change if I entered that “state” more often?

Rest areas often honor people who have inspired others.

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When I create quiet time and reflect on those who have inspired me, it strengthens my soul.

Sometime, rest areas provide warnings and give you resources to get help.

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Resting allows me the space to more clearly see what is coercive and threatening to my well being and encourages me to take some bold steps for change.

Rest areas are sources of learning whether about history or when the National Banana Pudding Festival is happening.

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I learn the most in my resting when I allow the silence and time to expand, even when it starts to feel a bit uncomfortable. I’m so used to “doing” that simply “being” often feels unnatural. That, in itself is revelatory. If I am willing to persist in holding the space, surprising insights come.

Some rest stops are very minimal, but, so very needed that frills are not necessary. Texas, however, wins the award thus far for an extravagant rest area. Perhaps because it also doubles as a tornado shelter. Perhaps, because Texas celebrates bigness for resting.

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Even in the midst of grandeur, there are some reality checks.

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I’m learning to do a reality check more frequently on when it is time to rest. To listen better to my body and its wisdom.

There is a story about an American visiting Africa who questions the guides when they insist on stopping after a few days of travel. “We have traveled very fast and must allow time for our souls to catch up with our bodies,” they said. In essence, that is the way we should take life seriously.

May we create rest areas in our lives so our souls can catch up and we can be whole again.

Post by Diane

 

 

 

 

 

Propaganda in Little Rock

 

schoolintegration5  06 Sep 1957, Little Rock, Arkansas, USA --- Elizabeth Eckford ignores the hostile screams and stares of fellow students on her first day of school.  She was one of the nine negro students whose integration into Little Rock's Central High School was ordered by a Federal Court following legal action by NAACP. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

I was stunned after more than an hour in the Little Rock Central High School Historic Site and Visitor Center. It gave me a history lesson I never fully got in school about the integration in 1957 of an all-white high school by nine African American students three years after the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Listening to the stories of the Little Rock Nine, I was both inspired by the students and horrified by the inhumane behavior of white people.

However, something deeply disturbing happened as we watched the hourly film showing of Nine from Little Rock just before we left the center.

Before the film begin, a park ranger explained that the 1964 short documentary, which won an Academy Award, was commissioned by the United States Information Agency (USIA) as propaganda during the Cold War. I’ve since learned that the USIA, established in 1953, became a critical part of foreign policy during the Cold War using propaganda and diplomacy to positively showcase the United States.

Here’s where it gets problematic. If you just see the film and don’t know all of the history, you’d think the integration of Central High happened fairly easily with the wonderful support of federal troops on September 25th. What it completely leaves out of the telling is the horrendous days from the first attempt to integrate on September 4th. It doesn’t show Governor Faubus having the Arkansas National Guard bar the entry of the students. It doesn’t tell about the threatening mobs every day, injuries to reporters, and the protestors spitting, shoving, and name-calling of the students. It gave the impression that, yes, we had a bit of a challenge in America, but we handled it so well. It erases the reality of the challenge of fighting oppression.

As we went to leave the museum, the same ranger asked us what we thought about the center. I hesitated, “The center information was great. However, I found the film disturbing.” I explained how people who didn’t know the full history would get a very sanitized version of a horrific time. It didn’t seem right to me to show this film at the center. He asked if his explanation at the beginning of the film was helpful. I acknowledged it was helpful to know how the film came to be made but shared my concern that it continues to whitewash the reality and miseducation people.

“Well, I’m glad to hear you say that,” he said, cautiously. He was a Black man. I said I was concerned it contributes to people believing we live in a post-racial world.

He told us how a white woman earlier in the day had apologized to him for what happened. I said, in jest, “because you represent all Black people”. He nodded and continued, “She also said that things were so much better now.” I responded sarcastically, “because we are in a post-racial world?” and my husband added, “because we have a Black President.”

He then said, “People like you make my day.” I was reminded of the daily cost of whitewashing on people of color.

I’m going to write a letter to the National Park Service expressing my concerns.

And I’m going to remember the Black park ranger who, day after day, is subject to ignorant and painful remarks from people who look like me, and like me, were never were taught the true history of our country. We were taught propaganda about Native Americans, Black people, Chinese people, Japanese Americans, Mexicans, and more people who were not white.

The antidote to propaganda is to ask critical question about information we are given. Who is framing the information? Who does it benefit? Slavko Martinov, producer of a documentary, Propaganda, advises, “Question everything. . . Taking apart what you are sold, information, is the antidote to propaganda: you take everything apart, and start asking questions about it.”

 

 

We come here to remember.

Elijah was two years old, and Aaron was five. Two brothers in a day care center, dropped off by a loving family member on a beautiful spring morning in Oklahoma City. Killed when Timothy McVeigh drove his bomb-laden truck into the Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995 at 9:02 am. 168 people dead; hundreds injured.

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As a mom of two sons, the horror of this shakes me again even these 21 years later as I visit the Oklahoma City National Museum and Memorial. “We come here to remember” is the theme. The outdoor part of the memorial has chairs engraved with the names of all who died. The children’s chairs are smaller. I happened upon the ones for Elijah and Aaron whose lives I had read about inside the museum. “We come here to remember.”

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Evil is a total disconnect from the human experience. A complete disregard for what it is to be human. A depletion of any emotional connection to those who are discarded as if they were simply non-existent. Timothy McVeigh showed no emotion about his actions.

“We come here to remember.” I have come to Oklahoma for the first time in my life. I understand now that I am coming here to be reminded to remember.

Oklahoma is home today to 39 Indian tribes.

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I am remembering how our country treated the First Nations Peoples as if they were simply non-existent and disposable.

Most of the tribes here today were forced to migrate to Oklahoma from their ancestral lands.

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The Cherokees were rounded up and marched more than a thousand miles to designated “Indian territory.” “The Trail Where They Cried” reveals more than the often used “The Trail of Tears.” Those tears belonged to real people who cried. Let us not sanitize our language as if tears simply fall on a trail; let us remember the painful cries of the people from whose cheeks they fell. We have a long history of making them “savages” and therefore, less than human so we could disconnect from their humanity. And from ours, as we destroyed their lives.

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 “We come here to remember.”

We are in the midst of a strengthened movement within our country to “otherize” and dehumanize people who are not part of the dominant white and Christian culture. So that we can continue to treat them as less than human, disposable. Do not doubt that this is a movement of evil. It is a movement we have seen before in our own country’s history as well as elsewhere in the world.

 

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Let us take seriously our responsibility to remind each other that “we come here to remember.” We come to this moment in history with a choice. A life or death choice. May we remember how to choose life.

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Children’s tile wall at Memorial

 

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Post by Diane

 

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