Friday, October 11, 2013

Berea College Civil Rights Tour 2013: Tour Day 4, with a brief note on Tour Day 5, the final day of the tour

I continue the blog series here at The Gypsy Librarian with my notes, observations, reflections, and thoughts on my journey in the Berea College Civil Rights Seminar and Tour 2013. This is a way for me to preserve some of what I learned as well as a step in sharing it with others.Today I am covering the fourth day of the seminar and tour, which is the second actual touring day. This took place on August 6, 2013.

Reminder that, as I often do, I will try to type out notes directly. Any additional comments I make I will put in parenthesis (or try to distinguish from just straight notes). Quotes will be in quotation marks with attribution (if I managed to catch the name of source or it was available). If any other participants read this and wish to add or make corrections, etc., their comments are welcome. So are comments from anyone else (as long as you follow my usual rules of good behavior. I will not tolerate any form of bullying, intimidation, rudeness, etc. Such will simply be deleted). I will also add links from various sources as needed to expand on my notes or add further information that may not be clear from just my notes, or just for my own reference.

# # #

Today is our last day of activity. Tomorrow (August 7, 2013) we will make the journey back home to Berea. Time has gone fast, and I have learned so much. Listening to Ms. Joanne yesterday, I felt like I saw living history. A question came up: what will happen when those of her generation are gone? Will the story be told? I would like to think yes. Will young generations pick up the baton and run with it? I am not as optimistic about that. I think our Berea College graduates likely will given their education, but elsewhere, I am honestly not so sure.

People like Joanne were so young when they marched and took action. We call them heroes now, deservedly so, but back then they just saw injustice, felt it, lived it, and acted. They were very afraid, but they took fear head on.

  • We travel next to Memphis, Tennessee.
    • On the way to Memphis, we watch the documentary "Roads to Memphis." Keep in mind that Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis. The killing speaks to how dangerous the U.S. was at the time. 
    • In 1967, George Wallace ran a 3rd party campaign for the U.S. Presidency. On a curious historical note, James Earl Ray volunteered to work for the campaign. 
    • By the late 1960s, Dr. King was taking on systemic poverty. He was planning a new march to Washington D.C. in 1967 to call for work on poverty. This kind of talk was clearly a threat to whites and the privileged. Even J. Edgar Hoover had a vendetta against Dr. King, directing FBI surveillance and harassment.
    • In 1968, Dr. King went to Memphis to help sanitation workers striking for better work conditions and pay. 
  • Today was my day to do journaling in the group journal. This gave me a moment to reflect and share some thoughts on this experience with the group (aside from this blog, which I have no idea who besides my four readers would be reading). Over the journey, we have taken turns writing our thoughts and reflections in a group journal, which will serve as a record of the group's journey. 
  • There is so much evidence of poverty in Memphis as we ride through the town. (If I recall, Jesus had some line about the poor always being with us. Turns out the line people often use is Matthew 26:11. But Jesus also had a lot to say, tasking his believers to help the poor like Luke 12: 23; Luke 6: 20-23 among other verses. As a heathen myself, I wonder how people call themselves Christian and so easily dismiss the poor and show no sense of compassion and social justice. Religion and churches may have inspired the movement, but people still had to have the basic decency, empathy, and compassion to act. If nothing else, as a heathen, I can see, even in this journey, how both folks like Dr. King and George Wallace could take their positions and call themselves "Christian." You need more than a book of scripture to be a decent human being. It comes from inside, and it comes from education and eradicating ignorance. So many ills come from ignorance and fear.)

  •  Our tour of Memphis. There, Ms. Elaine Turner is our hostess to guide us in the city. (As before, I have photos with additional notes which I will try to share later.)
    • We begin from Clayborn Temple, the place from where Dr. King led his last march in Memphis.
    • Residents of Memphis might wonder why Dr. King was killed here. We come to realize it could have happened anywhere. 
    • Churches serve as places of refuge for the movement. 
    • Other landmarks we see: 
      • R.S. Lewis Funeral Home, where Dr. King was laid in estate. 
      • Robert Church Park, the first park in the city for blacks. 
      • First Baptist Beale Street Church, which was built by former slaves. 
      • W.C. Handy's home. He is known as "Father of the Blues." The Blues is the first documented music art of the United States. Handy did not claim to invent it; he wrote the notes down and documented it. See the film St. Louis Blues about his life with Nat King Cole portraying Mr. Handy.
      • Beale Street. This was the economic center of the black community. It was also a political base: news, political organizations, classes for literacy, churches that often paid the poll taxes for blacks to vote. It was also a cultural center: food, music, the churches, so on. On this street, blacks could do what they could not do on main street. 
      • Adams Avenue: where the slave markets were located. Factoid: Nathan Bedford Forrest made his fortune selling slaves here. 
    • Burkle House: Undergound Railroad Museum
      • The museum addresses slavery as a topic as well as the slave history of the city. 
      • The Atlantic Ocean is the largest cemetery in the world due to the Middle Passage. 
      • Memphis was a big cotton trading center. "King Cotton." 
      • The slaves, being illiterate, learned various codes for escaping. Quilts from friendly homes gave hints and signals of safety for slaves running away. Slaves also learned to listen. For them, music was a way to communicate. The spirituals served as coded messages to help slaves escape. When the slaves in a plantation sang, the master thought often they were "happy." Often, the slaves were using the music and lyrics to send coded messages for those running away. 
    • Memphis was a segregated city. One library for blacks and the rest of the city's libraries (and other services) for whites. There were book reading sit-ins in the public libraries here (this is something I ought to check on). 

  • The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. This complex includes the locale of the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was killed.
    • We saw the documentary "The Witness" featuring Reverend Kyles, who was a witness to Dr. King's killing. 
    • King knew that economics was the next level in the movement: wealth redistribution, closing tax loopholes, etc. (gee, that sounds familiar. Much like today. We've come far, but not far enough. Dr. King would probably have much to say today. As the Rude Pundit writes--bluntly-- Dr. King would fuck conservatives' shit up. He writes that Dr. King-- and I can see this is accurately so--"was an openly socialistic, confrontational radical whose 'I Have a Dream' speech asked for nothing less than a complete elimination of white privilege and the destruction of racial and economic hierarchies."  I believe some of his followers living today would concur. A bit of language, but worth reading it in this context. Also go ahead and read Dr. King's speeches. It's all there if you are willing to read it, see it, and learn it.)
    • King was working on a national poverty campaign at this point in his life. He knew thus that he had to stop in Memphis to help the sanitation workers. 
    • Reverend Kyles on why God put him there as a witness: "a crucifixion has to have a witness." To him, this would be revealed later. King died to help the sanitation workers. "You can kill the dreamer, but you cannot kill the dream. The dream is still alive." (Or to quote a film and graphic novel I admire, "...and ideas are bulletproof.") 
    • "The greatest evil in our country today is not racism, but ignorance. . . We need to be taught to study rather than to believe." -- Septima Poinsette Clark (1898-1987), South Carolina school teacher and civil rights worker. 
    • "We must educate the white people out of their 250 years of slave history." -- Ida. B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931), journalist and co-founder of the NAACP 
    • We get to see the view that James Earl Ray saw when he shot Dr. King. The guy did have a very clear view. 
    • Key reason Dr. King stayed at the Lorraine: it was a "black friendly" hotel. (I am referring to this, see Negro Motorist Green Book.)
    • By the way, (in the interest of capturing all I saw) outside the museum there was a protester who held a sign seeing the museum as a memorial to the killer. The protester is Jacqueline Smith, and she has a website here. According to the site, she was the last tenant of the Lorraine. 
  • End of day reflection: 
    • Poverty is a striking theme in the cities we visited. 
    • (On our way back, on the bus, there was some conversation/commentary going on the topic of bullying, bullying needing to be addressed in relation to  youth. They, whoever it was as I do not recall who now,  brought up Columbine as an example of bullying. At that point, I wanted to toss at them a copy of Dave Cullen's book, Columbine, which clearly debunks that idea that the shooters were bullied. Link to my review of the book. Anyhow, it was not a good time to say anything, but I did want to make the note.)
    • As a librarian, I wondered what kind of programs and support the library can provide to keep this work alive when we get back to Berea. Outreach?
# # #

Brief note on the 5th and final day. This was August 7, 2013. This was our day of travel back to Berea. On the way back, we listened to Dr. King's last speech, which he gave in Memphis.  It was a proper way to reflect one more time as we departed to Berea.

(In the end, there are a couple of additional observations that are not making it into the blog but remain in my personal journal that did give me reasons to think and ponder further. With this, this stage of the journey comes to an end. But the journey and the lucha-- struggle-- do continue. The work is not done.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Angel

Thank you for putting your notes on the Berea College Civil Rights tour out here on the web. I came across the posts purely by chance. They are detailed and thoughtful - a great way to capture the lessons of the Martin Luther King commemoration event. I found it very moving. Cecily