“We fired our guns and the British kept a-coming“.
I was reminded of this Lonnie Donegan song for two reasons today. We are on our way to New Orleans where the British lost a war in 1815. Somehow that linked to our final stop in Memphis – The Civil Rights Museum.
How could we leave without visiting the Lorraine Hotel (now housing the museum) where Dr Martin Luther King Jnr was murdered as he stepped out onto his hotel balcony? What an amazing place has been created. It uses powerful media to tell the story of the country’s reliance on slavery, to the election of Abraham Lincoln (who began its formal abolition), the States who freed their slaves but sent back escapees from other states to their masters, the struggles for universal suffrage, through the years of so-called ‘equality’ with segregation, to the freedom rides and marches and on to the very recent past – when acceptance of equality was finally achieved? The two hour visit had the same effect on me as my visit to Nagasaki a year or two ago. No matter what difficulties I may have experienced at any point in my life, it was nothing to the struggles of people who had almost nothing, who lost everything and yet still emerged with smiles and kindness for their persecutors.
The sounds, film footage, black and white photographs, and drawings, created a powerful story of extreme suffering and hardship. You would not want this for anyone – and yet…! We have talked with Americans all along our journey. Some have expressed views that black Americans have been given too much self belief as a result of President Obama. It is not yet over.
On a lighter, albeit wetter, note, we were about an hour into our journey south to Jackson in the very hot sun when Carolyn commented how lucky we had been to avoid the forecast storms. Half an hour later I pointed out the ominous clouds ahead. In no time, the same clouds had enveloped us along with a total deluge. I pulled off the freeway because we needed petrol but also because I couldn’t see road markings or further than the rear lights in front. Our attempt to fill up the tank, ostensibly under cover but with the rain driving horizontally at us, with the lightning flashing and the thunder crashing, was worthy of a comedy sketch. We both had quite a soaking and drove the remaining few miles still peering through the storm with the acquired raindrops dripping where they shouldn’t.
However, we soon sorted ourselves out and went in search of food and live music. We found both. The food was good – monstrous American portions – and the music had been advertised as everything from the 60s to present day. Three guitars (or two guitars and a mandolin), the same rhythm and beat throughout and the harmonies a bit hit and miss…but we knew the tunes and enjoyed old favourites like the symbolic “Take it easy” from our Route 66 trip.
Onwards to New Orleans tomorrow!
Carolyn’s Curios & Musical Notes 🎼🎶🖌
We sacrificed one of our music targets – Delta Blues Museum – to go to the Civil Rights Museum. We weren’t directly involved in the struggles against slavery and for human rights because it was before our time; we weren’t directly involved in the civil rights movement in the U.S. but supported it from afar. I’m frequently embarrassed when I talk with African Americans when I’m reminded of how they were treated within my lifetime. Why did their struggle need to happen? The museum went through the history. There could never be any moral defence of slavery but there was a strong economic case. At the time, that was sufficient. There could never be a sound logical argument to avoid the seeming imperative of the American Constitution which asserted boldly, “All men are created equal”. However, they tried. How about… “Negroes are so obviously inferior to a white man that the founding fathers didn’t feel any need to mention it!” Plausible? I think not!
And then, try this one which was used to justify segregation. “Negroes are equal but different. They should be educated separately. They should sit separately on buses. They should eat, sleep, live in different places.” Segregation (or Apartheid in S.A) was a sham. Schools were not equal. African Americans were disadvantaged from birth to grave merely because of the colour of the skin. Dr Martin Luther King Jnr in his ‘I have a dream’ speech said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.” How can anyone gainsay that? But, yet, they did… and some still do. In the UK as well as the US.
Successive Presidents succumbed to electoral pressure by denying basic human and civil rights. And, the fight is not over as Kath remarked.
As we began the museum visit, we went into a room of photographs showing some of the struggles for basic rights. For me, it was ironic that the photos were in black and white. Those photos weren’t really in black and white. They were in various shades of grey. In light, it is worth noting that between black and white is not grey but every colour of the spectrum rainbow! At the end of the final film we saw, there was reference to modern day slavery, modern day lack of quality education and mention of various civil right movements including the original Stonewall and Prides.
Musically, buzzing round my head were songs like, “We shall overcome” along with other protest songs. Usually, these songs were gentle and peaceful. But then, Dr King’s passive resistance was ended by violence. However, his legacy is that change has taken place successfully through the law – and the changing of it – and through the ballot box. People like Mandela, King, Rosa Parks etc. deserve our utmost respect and thanks. As Blue Mink sang, “What we need is a great big melting pot.”
On our journey towards Jackson (Johnny Cash song with the name chosen for sound not destination), we passed over a Tallahatchie Bridge and remembered Bobbie Gentry’s ‘Ode to Billie Joe’. The original was demolished some time ago but the song endures.
And, tonight, we had a range of country rock songs from Twisted Grass at a local restaurant. Enthusiastic and talented in presenting a wide range of genres somehow delivered in a similar laid back style with an almost identical tempo. We sang along to more than a few but the band needs to be tighter if they are to secure a bigger audience. Nice people though and ‘Copperhead Road’ was very well delivered.
Tomorrow… New Orleans… the British kept a-coming!