The Road to the National Civil Rights Museum


(Photo: Stephen Carter-Novotni)

I’d never even heard of the National Civil Rights Museum before, but it made sense. Memphis was the city where Martin Luther King was assassinated. It was also the host city for the National Conference for Media Reform, which drew upwards of 3,500 journalists and activists to one of America’s poorest cities Jan. 12-14.

Memphis is so poor, in fact, that its bus service stops running at 9:30 p.m. on Saturdays — even though, strangely, their trolleys run until 1 a.m. The homeless shelters also charge admission — a minimum of $7 a night.

So on Saturday, Jan. 13, after running around Behle Street with Justin Jeffre a media activist who used to be in the band 98 Degrees, I decided the easiest way to return to the Emmanuel Catholic Worker House in Midtown, where I was staying, was to hitch a ride.

My ride turned out to be Memphis Circuit Court Judge D’Army Bailey, who was also attending the conference and described himself as “having done some activist work in the ’60s.” The judge dropped me off, and I didn’t figure on seeing him again.

I only found out about the museum the next day, on my way back to the airport. The Seattle-based artist I was hitching with wanted to see it before his flight. We drove through miles of urban blight trying to find it and, when we finally got to the address, we came to a rundown hotel, painted hospital-scrub green, that looked like it was from the 1960s. Which, of course, it was.

“Holy God,” I exclaimed. “This is where King was shot. They kept the whole thing intact.”

And there, on the balcony, standing over a bloodstain almost four decades old, in front of room 306, behind the wreath marking King’s last place on earth, was Judge Bailey being interviewed by Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman.

Anyway, that’s how I got that photo that went with my story.

– Stephen Carter-Novotni

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One Comment on “The Road to the National Civil Rights Museum”

  1. I haven’t been there in 13 years, but I visited twice in a fairly short span back then. It was a powerful experience — very well done and much more moving and inspirational than our own Freedom Center. Walking thru MLK’s hotel room at the end with a recording of Mahalia Jackson singing “Amazing Grace” brought us all to tears.

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