". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Memphis -- National Civil Rights Museum Reopens

We were there about two weeks ago.  Unable to go in,  we took photos of the exteriors of this very large complex that makes up the whole of this Civil Rights Museum centered around the murder of Dr. King.

In those days of Dr. King's murder, people of color weren't able to stay in the same hotels and motels as white people. For the many blacks who made their living as musicians or were otherwise, like Dr. King, compelled to be frequent itinerants, in the former confederacy, if you were lucky -- the town large enough --  there would be boarding houses and, later, motels, run by black people for black people. So the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was murdered was one of those was built for black custom: musicians in particular would stay there, including many working at Stax Records, whose names have become legendary:  Ray Charles, Lionel Hampton, Aretha Franklin, Ethel Waters, Otis Redding, The Staple Singers and Wilson Pickett.

"From Slave Ship Shackles to the Mountaintop" -- National Civil Rights Museum to Reopen After Reconstruction --  by Edward Rothstein, in the New York Times Arts section.
While establishing a museum where Dr. King was killed once inspired criticism, now some 200,000 people visit each year. In 2002, the museum expanded, with new exhibitions in two annex buildings, incorporating the fleabag rooming house from which Ray had stalked his prey. With the rethinking of the main exhibition space, the museum is building on a trend it also helped inspire: Multiple museums in the South are beginning to confront the region’s troubled racial past at sites and in cities where history is still memory. 
These days, all over the former confederacy, "Black Tourism" as it's called in the states' tourism agencies is touted.  This is not "reconsidering our past in civil rights and slavery."

If it wasn't for the decades of efforts by local black populations this wouldn't be going on at all, as, for instance, with the Forks in the Road memorial in Natchez, the Benches by the Side of the Road as at Sullivan's Island (called the Ellis Island of African Americans for the vast number of captives from Africa processed there) in Charleston sponsored by Toni Morrison. Even the Whitney Plantation, which seems to be conceived as an enormous memorial to those who died in slavery, is expected to become a lucrative draw for weddings, conferences and so on.

It's more than ironic that so many places in the former confederacy, that are so impoverished as in Alabama, are counting on slavery tourism and civil rights tourism to save their a$$e$. To see how seriously the South is about re-thinking its history, look at Alabama and its draconian actions against immigrants, or the on-going investigation into the death of Jackson MS's (Mississippi's capital) first black mayor.

We visited this site last spring on our "Memorial Frederick Bancroft Slave Market Tour"
This is how serious the former confederacy is about rethinking its history: Richmond plans to build a multi-billion dollar baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom, where one of the hugest slave market houses was established, which is part of the Black History trail in Richmond.  Solomon Northup spent a night in one of those jails on his multiple-sale journey down to Epps plantation in Louisiana. He writes about that night there in his 12 Years a Slave.  By all means, let us pave over the shame and enjoy ourselves with beer and howling instead.

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