Day two and three of our journey found us in Memphis. I’ve been here before numerous times for work, but never with my family. I’ve always wanted to bring them here for one singular reason. We live in the city that gave birth to Dr. King and is referred to as the cradle of the civil rights movement. They also need to understand the legacy of the place where Dr. King was assassinated. I believe it was Fred Hampton who said, you can kill the revolutionary, but not the revolution. Coming to Memphis you learn just how much this is true. But it was greatly tested.
The girls put together a few activities on our list of things to do while here, but our first stop (well second stop after eat at The Arcade, Memphis’s oldest restaurant blocks away from The Lorraine Motel), was the National Civil Rights Museum. I’ve been here several times and each time I see something new to linger on.
It’s not easy making your way through a museum, especially one with such poignant and at times disheartening history with young ones. The Littles (our 6 and 4 year olds) probably didn’t get much out of the experience. They were too young to fully grasp what they were viewing most times, but still old enough to realize that things felt serious at times. I carried my youngest, Sloane, in my arms most of the trek through the museum to prevent them from chasing each other through the exhibits (as definitely happened on the first floor).
But, that’s ok. This experience wasn’t really for them, yet. All I needed them to understand was that we were visiting a place that helps us remember. They’ve been introduced to the phrases, civil rights, racism, slavery. This is all just about building further exposure, bit by bit.
I believe that it’s our job as parents to take the lead in introducing and guiding our kids through difficult subjects well before they’re exposed elsewhere. These days it’s not even clear that they will be exposed to a comprehensive understanding of our history, unless we take the reins and do so ourselves. I can’t afford to take the risk that someone else will come along and give them an incomplete or worse, incorrect version of history that pertains to all of us. Truth be told, we all suffer from incomplete narratives.
Back to the trip, for the bigs (the 10 and 12 year old), they were the ones I was most excited to walk through the museum with. This is probably the first museum that I’ve taken them to where they were really ready for dialogue. So, I did what any educator would do in a museum with students. I asked them questions.
What does what you’re seeing make you think?
How does it make you feel?
I shared some of my own reactions, especially when we got to the section on education. That part of the exhibit gets me every time.
The part that they seemed to linger the most on was the Rosa Parks exhibit. Sure, they’d heard of Rosa Parks before (and not just the edited version of one day she sat on a bus. They were reminded that she was a part of a bigger strategy, a planned and coordinated movement, one that she trained and prepare for and that there were others before her). But it was the actual bus simulation that seemed to shake them up.
They got on the 1950s style bus, but didn’t expect the bus driver recording to demand for them to literally move to the back of the bus. When we did, to head towards the exit, they remarked how there wasn’t even a lot of space back there.
What does this make you think? How does it make you feel?
These aren’t questions to shy away from. I didn’t need to manage their feelings or provide some kind of trite explanation as to why things were the way they were. The truth is, they’re intelligent young people having a human experience and they’re capable of discerning some of the same things you and I notice. But it did continue a conversation, one that we’ll keep happening as I expose them to more things. It’s all about giving them handles for explore and understand the world around them.
So, yeah our morning was a bit heavy. But then, after exploring the Beale Street area and getting some ice cream, we did that thing that is our saving grace on every trip. We went back to our Airbnb mid day and took naps for those who needed it (my wife and the four year old lol), read and wrote (me), and had some device time (the others). It’s our secret to traveling well with a large family, we always take mid day breaks or at least 2-3 hours of down time. This allows us to reset and get some alone time in, and it saves us countless meltdowns.
By the end of the evening, we were back out exploring the city and wrapping up with a meal and some family videos. As we prepare to hit the road for Little Rock and Tulsa today, I’m glad that we spent the time we did here. I hope it left an impression.