The docent began by explaining the African origins of the slaves. Slaves would be captured, but only a few from each tribal village, as those in the business wanted to keep theirs prisoners from communicating with one another (avoiding mutinies and such). The captured slaves were housed in large fort like structures where they were beaten into submission before being shipped to the new world for sale. Ships carried hundreds of slaves at a time, many ships housed their slaves shackled on boards that were stacked in book shelve fashion, just 20 inches between levels. The survival rate during the journey was poor, with one out of four slaves dying before reaching the New World. The slaves that died were thrown overboard and the boat passage route became a shark infested trail. Few were motivated to protect slave investments on these journeys as slave losses, often called out simply as insured goods, were covered by many of today's well know insurers, such as Aetna and Cigna.
In the New World, at auction selling blocks, families were torn apart. A mother might be sold with two older daughters and her youngest children, might be sold to the less affluent as part of a dozen. We learned of slave traders and breeders, with Nathan Bedford Forrest being one of the largest slave breeders. The Forrest name is a name of huge controversy in these parts, as it should be. While he was the only General in the Civil war on either side to have started out as a private, his past as the largest slave breeder and then later as a key leader in the Ku Klux Klan can not escape him. Forrest Controversy So much so, that the park in Memphis that was set up to honor him has recently removed his name from honor and renamed the local park. Park Name Change
Many efforts were made to keep the slaves from communicating. Each time a communication method was discovered and then forbidden, the slaves would come up with something else. Slaves used songs as a communication mechanism to help guide other slaves to freedom. Songs provided directions on how to escape and also provided directions where to meet. Some of those coded words are found here:coded words Some of the 'Gospel Hymns' and their underground railroad meaning can be read about here:Songs of the underground railroad
We were presented with stories concerning quilts and their patterns having been used as a communication tool for the slaves. The stories were interesting and compelling, but upon further research appear that they may be folklore. For a description of the code, follow this link:quilt code The story told was that slaves would hang certain quilts to 'air' in order to send messages to other slaves. For a discussion of folklore vs. fact, take a look at this article: Quilt Codes folklore?
The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis is built around the former Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was shot on April 4, 1968. The museum extends across the street to also include the boarding house room that the shooter shot Martin Luther King from. Stated as just the shooter because to this day, although commonly believed that the shooter was James Earl Ray, there remains a lot of controversy over that conclusion.
The Museum is very moving and well done. We spent over 3 hours in the museum and felt like we had hardly touched all that was there to experience. The museum offers many artifacts, films, oral histories, interactive media and many external listening posts that contain interviews from actual people that experienced the various events presented.
The museum begins with a graphic representation of the global impact of slavery. A very detail representation is then given of the Jim Crow Laws that create 'separate but equal' life. Various oral histories provided first person accounts of life under these laws. Next presented was the slow pace of desegregation of the public schools. We listened to moving oral histories as individuals told their stores today as adults of a time when they were 6 or 7, escorted by police to school and being spat on and beaten as small children just trying to attend what was then to be a desegregated school. Next a section on the successful year long Montgomery Bus Boycott, initiated from the Rosa Parks incident was presented with a replica of the bus (we have sat on the actual bus in the Ford Museum in Detroit). Stand up by sitting down was presented next beginning with the well known Woolworth sit in and the various similar protests and arrests that followed across the country. Following was the Freedom Riders with personal oral accounts from these civil activists who rode interstate buses into the segregated United States in order to challenge the non-enforcement of the US Supreme Court decisions. They were arrested and jailed in the Parchman Penitentiary in Mississippi. The various ways that blacks were prevented from being able to register to vote was well covered, including the violence that ensued when they tried to register, not only for them but also for their employer. The Memphis Sanitation Workers strike was covered, including Dr. King's 'I've been to the Mountain Top address'. Dr. King was shot the following day at the Lorraine Hotel. His room, and the room next to his room was never used again and was on display as part of this museum. From here one walks across the street where the Mustang driven by Ray (the considered killer), the gun he used, Ray's actual boarding house room and the community bathroom where the fatal shots were fired from are all preserved and on display. Also on display is a very detailed account/investigation of various conspiracy theories. This was one of the better museums we have been in. The vast amount of oral histories, artifacts, video and documents are arranged and presented in an impressive manner. If we have any criticism at all it might be that more could have been done to sum things up and point to how to prevent similar violations in the future. The Pink Palace was next.
Piggly Wiggly was the first true American Self Service Grocery Store. The store incorporated shopping baskets, self-service branded products, and checkouts at the front. It was founded in 1916 in Memphis TN by Clarence Saunders and he patented the idea in 1917. Saunders began construction of a residence (Mansion) in Memphis in the early 1920's. He named the residence Cla-Le-Clare after his three children- Clay, Lee and Amy Clare. In 1923, however he lost his fortune and his home in a financial reversal on Wall Street. The house was acquired by the Memphis Museum of Natural History. Due to the pink marble used in the mansion's construction, it quickly became coined the Pink Palace.
The Pink Palace contains a very large variety of items relating to the Memphis area. We have chosen an eclectic few to share pictures of in this blog. The original main entry of the Pink Palace contains a large three panel mural by Memphis artist Burton Callicot. The murals were commissioned in 1934 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as part of the F.D. Roosevelt's projects to employ artists during the Great Depression. The amount, quality and diversity of artifacts in this museum was impressive.
Elmwood Cemetery- While we do not spend a lot of our travels in Cemeteries (some do), every once in awhile we come upon one that has old and significant statues and headstones. Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis was just such a cemetery. This is the first time we have seen what we would later call the bath tub markers. We have included some pictures within. While the 'bathtubs' are different, they make sense as flowers could be planted in them if one wanted.
Graceland - Not being HUGE Elvis fans, we were a bit less driven than many to add this to our itinerary. We both left questioning the price of the ticket, yet agreed, that it is a Memphis icon so one must do it at least once. And, not being huge fans, we learned some new things as well. We learned that Elvis had a twin that was still born and that Elvis came from very humble beginnings. We took the Platinum tour (missed his plane), but we were most interested in his home. While his home had more rooms and amenities than most homes we left with a feeling that for a man that had so much money, his home was modest (though more than the common man) compared to those with similar riches. Enjoy the pictures. We left enjoying this location, more than we expected.