Civil rights tourism in Memphis at the center of a panel at the Stax Museum
The Stax Museum of American Soul Music hosted a Civil Rights Tourism Success event in Memphis on Tuesday afternoon.
The program included a panel of local and state tourism leaders, a live performance by Stax Music Academy students, and a book signing with panelist Lee Sentell, Alabama tourism director and author of “The Official U.S. Civil Rights Trail”.
The program celebrates the addition of the Stax Museum to the U.S. Civil Rights Trail, a tour of places and landmarks in the South that figure prominently in the history of the Civil Rights Movement. The trail previously included these other Memphis landmarks: National Civil Rights Museum, Clayborn Temple and I AM A MAN Plaza, Mason Temple Church of God in Christ, WDIA Radio Station, and Beale Street Historic District.
“Preserving history, historic landmarks like this, is so vital to a city’s identity,” said panelist Elaine Lee Turner, founder of Heritage Tours, director of the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum and activist for civil rights. “It says who we are and what we value, what we think is important.”
Pat Mitchell Worley, the new president and CEO of Stax’s Soulsville Foundation, moderated the panel, which also included Russell Wigginton, president of the National Civil Rights Museum; Christine Anglin, assistant director of Clayborn Temple; and Mark Ezell, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Tourism Development.
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Following the performance of some original Stax Records hits by music students from the academy, panelists sat down to discuss the importance of preserving and recognizing these historic sites, educating people about their stories and the central role of funding in their line of work.
“People have always paid attention to Memphis,” said Wigginton, who received a $10 million grant for the National Civil Right Museum in Governor Bill Lee’s state budget amendment. “The drive to stand up, to be bold, to be brave, has been in our DNA for so long. We have no choice but to be at the center of this equation.
Memphis is a well-known site of many important milestones in the civil rights movement, including the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lorraine Motel.
However, Anglin — who is working to restore the Clayborn Temple, once a vital meeting place for Memphis’ black community and civil rights leaders — said Memphis’ rich black history and involvement in the movement, as well as the spread of the influence of Memphis today, especially in music. She said that over the years, Memphis has produced many leaders and visionaries, whether in the arts or in social justice.
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For many speakers, sharing these stories and educating audiences is a central part of continuing the work of those who came before, as Turner said of his work hosting tours and telling the story. of the Memphis struggle for civil rights.
“It changes people, and I say it changes hearts. That’s what we want to do. The civil rights movement was about changing hearts – changing laws and changing hearts. We didn’t still well understood the heart.”
Niki Scheinberg is an intern at The Commercial Appeal. She can be contacted at [email protected]