I have missed by children over the past few days. Their humorous phone calls are looked forward to but I missed several tonight because we were in a loud restaurant.
Today is the second day of a seven-day trip to historic civil rights sites in the South. Yesterday, we visited the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN. At this motel on April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed by James Earl Ray. The former motel that catered to black clientele was turned into a comprehensive Civil Rights museum in 1991. The most powerful sight at the Lorraine Motel is room #306; the last room that King stayed in. It has been returned to the condition that it was in while King was helping black sanitation workers who had gone on strike for better working conditions. As you look into the room and see the dishes, cups, disheveled sheets and pillows on the floor, it is easy to imagine Dr. King laying on the bed reading the day’s news. “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” by Mahalia Jackson plays quietly overhead. King was shot while standing on the balcony outside his room.
If interested, the last years and days of King’s life are thoroughly documented in Taylor Branch’s recent book, “At Canaan’s Edge.” The recent “Time” and “Newsweek” magazines both write about Branch’s book and quote extensive passages.
Today we toured downtown Birmingham, AL. Along with Kelley-Ingram park and the Birmingham Civil Rights Insititute, we visited the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church where four girls were killed by a church bomb on Sept. 15, 1963; only two weeks after King delivered his “I have a dream” speech on the steps on the Lincoln Monument. The crest of the Civil Rights movement took place at the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” in late August but soon fell as the lives of four girls were taken as they changed into their choir robes for Sunday morning worship. While in Birmingham, Dr. King wrote his famous “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” This concise letter outlines the basic tenets of Dr. King’s philosophy of non-violence. You also can hear his frustration boil as he described why it is not possible for blacks to wait any longer for integration to occur. Birmingham in 2006 does not look like Birmingham of 1963. Many changes have taken place for greater equality for blacks and whites of Birmingham. According to our guides this morning, Birmingham still has far to go.
Thanks for reading.