I traveled to Memphis last week with a group on a trip sponsored by WVON 1690AM. On Friday April 4, the weather in Memphis was rainy. In fact, it poured. As I stared out my hotel window, I thought the rain was nothing more than the tears of angels crying on the date Dr. King left us to join them. But the weather was not going to deter me from doing what I felt deep down inside that I needed to do-to march in honor of Dr. King.
I was 14-years-old when Dr. King was murdered at age 39. This 40th anniversary march is one year older than Dr. King was when he died. So nothing short of rapture was going to keep me from honoring a man who paid the ultimate price to change the American landscape.
Our tour schedule was to first visit the Civil Rights Museum. It is housed in what was the Lorraine Motel. The exterior of the Lorraine Motel looks like it did from years past. But the interior has been transformed into a pictorial history of the civil rights struggles, along with videos and reconstructions of scenes from the Civil Rights movement. During the course of walking the museum, I eventually arrived at room 307 which is next door to the room Dr. King had stayed in. Room 307 is now an open space that you can look outside at the exact location of where Dr. King laid dying from the gunshot wound. The wall separating the two rooms has been replaced by glass so that you can also look at the room Dr. King had stayed in.
For many of us, arriving at that point was an emotional journey. So much of what we had seen in pictures was now directly in front of us. I used my time to reflect on all the emotions that were assaulting me: sadness, gratefulness, recommitment, a sense of loss and on and on. I was moved to tears, but not tears of sadness. My tears promised that I would honor Dr. King by doing what I could to further what he had started.
The museum was extremely crowded with many who came to tour it. My group also was on a schedule to go to Memphis’ City Hall to hear speeches and then march back to the Lorraine Motel. The rain had stopped, but the weather was still cool. It didn’t matter. We were a group of people whose mission was more important than rain or cold.
We boarded our charter bus and drove to the site of Rev. Al Sharpton’s rally. We heard from several speakers, including comedian Monique and radio host Michael Baisden. Only two of the King children were in attendance: Martin Luther King III and Bernice King. For reasons not mentioned, Dexter King was missing from the event.
We marched to the Lorraine Motel in emotions that ranged from solemn to joyous. Once there, we heard speeches from both Martin III and Bernice. At 6:01 that evening, the moment that Dr. King died, there was a minute of silence. What was amazing was to watch and hear the thousands of people quiet down so that only the sounds of birds in the background could be heard. It was a moment that you had to be there to experience.
As I reflect on the trip, I feel that visiting Memphis and the Lorraine Motel should be for black people in America one of the “Must Do’s” of your life. I know that I want to go back and visit it again, when I can take the hours to slowly walk the site and absorb all that there was to offer.