The 2018 Road, Day 38: Memphis, Part 2- Martin and The Mountain Top

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July 2, 2018, Memphis-

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From the time I was a nine-year-old, trying my best to vicariously understand why Black people were struggling for the same rights my parents seemed to have, I have been fascinated by people like Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and Fannie Lou Hamer.  Rosa Parks and her story came a bit later to my consciousness, when I was in high school, and the works of Langston Hughes were part of our tenth grade English curriculum.

The murders of Emmett Till, the children in the Birmingham church bombing, the Civil Rights workers in both Alabama and Mississippi, Medgar Evers- all hit me hard.  I remember my Dad being pissed about the assassination of Malcolm X- “He was just starting to be reasonable”. It struck me that maybe that dialogue with White America was what got Malcolm killed; that maybe the powers that be don’t want the common folk to get along.  His death turned me from Goldwater youth to angry leftist radical.  The common denominator, for both alt-Right and Far Left seems to be the sense that the poor are just fodder-for those with money to burn.  1968 just added gasoline to my fire.

Time has made me recognize the complexity of the whole ball of wax.  I remain committed to a solid implementation of social justice, though, and visiting the National Civil Rights Museum brought me to my knees, in silent, shaking tears.

Martin Luther King, Jr, indeed made it to the mountain top. While his last physical gaze was at the eastern edge of downtown Memphis, his spiritual gaze saw the heights of recovery from a deeply-embedded misogyny, from a dalliance with classism and Marxism and from narrow focus on the cause of Black folk.  He spoke of, and was moving towards, leaving no one out:  Opposition to the Vietnam War was a part of his new credo, but so was the plight of hardscrabble farmers and miners in Appalachia and the Ozarks. Forging ties with La Raza Unida and Native American activists was a rising tide, but so was listening to the children of European immigrants who were living increasingly precarious lives, in poor urban neighbourhoods and rural slums, alike.

So, my morning was focused, in three museums in and around  Lorraine Motel.

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This establishment had been one of a relative handful of inns, across the country, where African-Americans could stay in safety, whilst traveling.

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In the main hall, there are replicas of key episodes in the Civil Rights struggle. Below, is a depiction of Rosa Parks, taking her rightful place on a Montgomery bus.

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This credo has been, to varying extents, followed by the greatest of those who have sought to bring about meaningful change.

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Those kids were my age, or younger, and that this did not matter to the bombers will forever burn in my heart.

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These two bedroom photos show the room occupied by  Dr. King (top) and by one of his top aides(bottom).

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This museum, across the street from the Lorraine, features two floors that exhibit details and archives of the assassination and the investigation into James Earl Ray and his suspected associates.    The  killings of other key figures of the Civil Rights Era are also examined here.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

My evolution, as a compassionate soul, is far from finished.  Being a “woke white man” is a worthy goal, but I still feel a bit drowsy.  This has nothing to do with my visiting places associated with the Confederacy or pondering conservative statements:  One must know what the “other side” thinks, and why, if there is to be a lasting peace in society, and in the world.

Lastly, before heading to the musically significant Beale Street, I stopped for a late lunch at one of Memphis’ oldest eateries.  The Arcade has been around since 1959.  The crew definitely made me feel at home, at the counter.  I’ll be back again.

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The 2018 Road, Day 35: One Good Ville to Another

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June 29, 2018, Crossville, TN-

I sent a text message to an online friend in Asheville, who would not have time for a short visit, and another to a friend in Knoxville, thinking she might be joining what I figured would be a gathering of old Xanga friends, tomorrow, in this town in the western foothills of Appalachia.

I spent time in both cities, en route to my destination.  After bidding farewell to W, I headed north to I-40, then west to Asheville, stopping for an hour’s introduction to what is sure to be a key stop on future journeys across the South.  I have said, and meant, that about so many places, that I may as well hop on a Greyhound local and be done with it.  The thought is comforting, though, to say the least. It’s nice to feel welcomed, whether in new places or old.

Here are some scenes of downtown Asheville.   Here is the lobby of Asheville Community Theater, with its stage areas both to the right and extending eastward from the lobby.

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From this spot, near my parking place, on the north side, I walked back towards the city center.  Art deco towers are not common in Appalachia, but the Jackson Building, built on the site of a tombstone shop run by William Oliver Wolfe, the father of novelist Thomas Wolfe, is such an edifice.

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This braided girl, inspired perhaps by Wolfe’s “Look Homeward, Angel”, is one of several statues that grace downtown.

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Zebulon Baird Vance, like so many figures of the Confederacy, was a mass of contradictions.  He reportedly taught some slaves to read, though that was never confirmed.  A life-long Christian, he strongly advocated for total religious freedom, and fought against anti-Semitism.  He sincerely believed that freed slaves were being manipulated by the Federal government and needed a time of separation from whites, thus his insistence on imposing racial segregation in North Carolina, during his post-war term as governor.  This unfortunate series of actions has re-ignited a debate, as to whether his name should be removed from this obelisk, in Pack Square.  Asheville, in recent years, has been a socially forward-thinking community. So, the Vance Memorial is something of an anomaly.

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One other unique feature of Pack Square is a series of farm animal sculptures, whose purpose is unclear.

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West of Pack Square, there are a number of small cafes. Being in the mood for a Cubano, I chose Bomba Latin Cafe.  The place was a friendly introduction to Asheville’s active foodie scene and the sandwich was all a Cubano should be- freshly shaved pork, with shredded cabbage and small, diced bits of Habanero pepper, on a freshly-baked bun.

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Well-nourished, I got back to my car, with six minutes to spare.  I got in one more full view of downtown, from Pack Square, before heading back onto the freeway. Asheville City Hall is visible, in the background.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

I had plenty of company, headed west, as I-40 was packed with people headed to the Great Smokies.  Once past the exits to Boone, Cherokee and Gatlinburg, the sailing was a bit smoother. My primary stop in Knoxville was to service my Elantra, at Big O Tires.  Being expected in Crossville by 5:30, or so, I headed straight here, once the service was finished.  Knoxville has  several places of fascination, not the least of which is my online friend’s art gallery.  These wait for a visit more focused on that area.

Settling in to the serene home of L and C, I look forward to tomorrow’s gathering, however large or small it may turn out to be.

Transitioning

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December 22, 2016, Prescott- 

My new supervisor came to call, this afternoon.  She informed us of some fundamental changes, aimed at further empowering our students.  I will have a freer hand, in both teaching our most vulnerable student, individually, and in working with the most advanced student, more on his own terms.

This is the thing about incremental change.  It is most effective when there is common ground, and ways are found to meet the needs of all.  That means there must be lack of greed, and a recognition that there is a place for the highest and the lowest, alike. One can’t denigrate the other.

I want to see this for the nation as a whole, and then the planet as an entity.  It broke my heart to see suffering in declining cities like Zanesville and Allentown, just as much as it did to view  the despair of people in Ferguson, MO, during my travels of the past summer. I care as much for those living on the edge in Appalachia and the Ozarks, as for my friends in Navajo, Hopi, Ute Mountain, Standing Rock and Pine Ridge.  Extend this to the west and center of Asia,to Rakhine, to the heart of Africa, the favelas and barrios of Latin America, to the camps and ghettos of Europe, and you get the picture.

Each of us can make the transition stronger.  We just have to be consistent, and united.