Tail end of my trip to the Delta was a short visit to Memphis, and the first stop was the National Civil Rights Museum, which incorporates the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered while he was there on a visit to support a strike by the Memphis sanitation workers. I was very pleasantly surprised by the exceptionally high quality of the place: I had expected a more standard, triumphalist, and celebratory exhibition that focused heavily on MLK, but instead I found a rich, creatively arranged multi-media exhibit that described the huge effort by many actors that made the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. The museum did not shy from presenting information on the divisions that existed in the movement, and MLK, although clearly the great leader the movement needed, was not alone in his work.
Of course, since MLK stayed there, that area of South Memphis was the black side of town in those days. Subsequently, it seems to have declined quite a bit, and today, in the numbing and depressing development cycle we call gentrification, it is being given new life. The old buildings have coffee bars, galleries, and not-too-cheap condos, and some new building are plopped into spaces where old ones have been demolished. The developers, having ignored the area for generations, are swooping in to make their kill as the grand march of capital moves into another “virgin” territory. But as with the Spanish conquistadors, there were people there already, but now they are being squeezed out. As it happens, on the drive up to Memphis, we heard this fantastic, but very depressing report on part of how this all happens today.
The pictures below were all taken in South Memphis, along the river, or Main Street.