We Shall Overcome… We Shall Overcome Someday!

Today, we left Nashville and headed west to Memphis, Tennessee… our goal: the National Civil Rights Museum.

The National Civil Rights Museum is housed in the Lorraine Hotel, the hotel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. As such, the museum purports to tell the story of the American Civil Rights Movement. I say “purports” because, in the eyes of the museum, the “Civil Rights Movement” is the movement for African-American equality. Although this is important and key to equality in America, it doesn’t address all civil rights issues. More on that later.

The museum tells the history of the movement for equal rights for African-Americans. It looks at the roots of the inequality, how the laws changed after the Civil War, how people fought the equality movement, and how non-violent resistance and the power of conviction made significant changes in society. One is able to see how our society is changed through the museum, to learn about the people involved with the movement. One can see where Dr. King was killed, and one can look out the window where James Earl Ray shot him. One can learn what more needs to be done. It is a very moving experience, especially for those that had relatives that lived it.

But I found the exhibit lacking.

What bothered me was what wasn’t told. First, the relationship between Blacks and Jews was never told. Some of the first award programs for black social rights was established by a Jew, and the roles of Jews were significant in the 1963 March on Washington (as demonstrated by the presence of two Rabbis on the program). There were shared struggles, and shared animosity (witness the KKK). This was never mentioned. (nor did they mention the role of Folk Music, and folk artists such as Peter, Paul, and Mary, Pete Seeger, or The Weavers in the struggle).

But what bothered me more was the implicit assumption that civil rights is the black struggle alone. There has been a long struggle for equal rights and equal treatment in America for all ethnic groups: the Irish, the Italians, the Chinese, the Japanese, and the Jews. Rights are right, and we must fight for equal rights on either race or national origin. There is also the struggle for equal rights for women, a struggle that continues to this day. Most importantly, there is the struggle for equal rights based on sexual orientation. For just like race, national origin, or gender, there is absolutely no reason for there to be differences in rights based on one’s sexual orientation. None whatsover. But was this mentioned? No.

I think the reason why relates to the audience disparity I’ve noted before in audiences at the Pasadena Playhouse. They are gearing the museum towards the intended audience. When we were there, caucasians were in the minority of attendance. The African-American audience, and the King family, want the focus on the African American struggle. This is an important struggle, yes, but when one is talking national civil rights, the law doesn’t make that distinction. Certainly, the struggle of the gay community wouldn’t be mentioned because of the power of the church.

We weren’t the only ones disturbed by the museum. There is an organized protest at the museum that argues that the NCRM should be boycotted, as the funds should be spent as Dr. King would have wanted them: to help the community and further the dream, not to make a museum for tourists. It is a compelling argument, and added to the thought provocing nature of the day.

Right now, we’re at our hotel in Jackson, Tennessee. Lots of commercial stores here, as well as the Casey Jones Museum. I’m not sure we’ll see that, as folks (that is, nsshere) is agitating to go to Graceland! Tomorrow night, it is back to Nashville… and returning to Los Angeles on Saturday (with a stop to see otaku_tetsuko and kuni_izumi along the way.