A group of 50 international students recently took advantage of the long Presidents’ Day Weekend to visit the National Civil Rights Museum (NCRM) in Memphis, Tennessee. This important educational experience was sponsored by International Programs, Study Away, and China Programs. Five staff members, Ashley Ryan (Study Away), Stephanie French (Study Away), Peng Zheng (China Programs), Darren Young (International Programs), and Liban George (International Programs) worked extremely hard to ensure that the NCRM, among other stops on the trip, would provide a memorable and enlightening experience for students who represented over a dozen different nationalities and cultural backgrounds.
The National Civil Rights Museum is housed on the site of the Lorraine Motel, located in the historic Art District of downtown Memphis. Its mission is to educate people to understand the lessons of the American Civil Rights Movement and its impact on human rights efforts worldwide. The site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is an accredited member of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, along with other members such as the Gulag Museum at Perm-36 in Russia, the Terezin Memorial in the Czech Republic, and The Upton Road Workhouse in England. “Sites of Conscience” aim to make the history of human rights accessible, develop a meaningful public dialogue on important humanitarian issues, and promote public involvement in the search for social and economic justice all around the world (http://www.sitesofconscience.org/).
The Lorraine Hotel was one of only a few places where African-American travelers could procure overnight accommodation while traveling during the 1960s in the Jim Crow South. Dr. King stayed at the Lorraine numerous times and was a guest there when he traveled to Memphis in 1968 to demonstrate his support of striking sanitation workers. The room he stayed in, Room 306, as well as the balcony where his life ended, are preserved in his memory. The NCRM is also custodian of the evidence files associated with the investigation of the assassination of Dr. King and was the first museum of its kind to receive case evidence and court documents into its collection.
Our international students explored the history of slavery in the United States, thought about the effect of racism on U.S. society today, and considered the interactions of poverty and injustice. One student, Mathilde Voillequin, remarked that “The exhibit about women of courage who played a role in the Civil Rights Movement was very interesting. I was particularly moved by the story of Rosa Parks, because I could not imagine what it must have been like to do what she did. Also, being able to stand where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated was something very moving and really special.” Remco Vallinga was struck by not only the museum, but also by Memphis’ tradition of blues music, something with which the Dutch student was previously unfamiliar. Tastes of diversity in historical status, socioeconomic class, and cultural traditions abounded on this educational trip, and all agreed that it was a resounding success.
For additional information, please go to the links referenced above. Moreover, the NCRM’s website, at http://www.civilrightsmuseum.org/, offers many online educational tools for those unable to travel to Memphis, including a “Privilege Aptitude Test,” which aims to make all of us aware that many people, because of their gender, race, economic class, sexual orientation, or religion, are unable to fully participate, with all rights thereof, in a supposedly open, democratic society (http://www.civilrightsmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/Youth-PrivilegeAptitudeTest.pdf).