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Our Fieldtrip to the Civil Rights Museum

Our Fieldtrip to the Civil Rights Museum

Sometimes, I do not know how to approach the topic of civil rights and race relations. I am a white woman. I grew up in the South. I grew up in a home where racist jokes were a norm. I had a confederate flag in my room. I would have told you it was about heritage and not hate… I cringe at the very thought of it now. I remember on more than one occassion, after relating an incident that happened at school… like a fight… or once a car accident I was in on the way to school…being asked, “Was he black?” As if that would explain all… was he black? Because that must have been the root of it all.

After the car accident I was in on the way to school… when a car pulled out in front of me and slid into my lane, causing me to crash into it… and thus causing the car behind me to crash into me… I came home and was asked, “Was he black?” I finally challenged that question. No… no he was not. And what difference does that make? No… he was not. He was, in fact, a rich white guy that lived a few neighborhoods over. I asked to stop being asked that question… because it would never make a difference.

Why am I sharing this? I don’t know… I think because I want to not be just some other white person whose indifference to issues of race perpetuates a system that has failed humans. I want to think that in some small way, I am breaking a cycle. I knew the jokes I heard and the comments that came were wrong. I said no… this must stop.

But I still feel completely inadequate and ill equipped.

My husband and I met with some of his friends a few years ago to have an honest conversation about race relations. We tried to reach out to other friends and it seemed that simply because we were white, we were seen as an enemy… a naive, racist enemy. I am thankful for those friends who sat with us. I’m not sure how they felt walking away from us. We just wanted a space where we could ask questions, share our heart, and know how we can make steps to help in racial reconciliation.

It was a long and challenging coversation. I am thankful for it. At the end of it all, our friend said, “Two things- Don’t be racist. Stop racist talk.”

Don’t be racist.

Stop racist talk.

In an effort to educate and continue to create a new narrative for my children, I am requiring them to take a Civil Rights course in middle school. We use the Civil Rights course offered through Schoolhouse Teachers. It combines reading, videos, and other resources to share the history of Civil Rights in the United States.

Every six months, we go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for my cancer warrior’s bi annual appointments. We just went a couple of weeks ago. We had a little bit of time between appointments so we headed over to the National Civil Rights Museum. This was my second time visiting the museum. We went a couple of years ago when my son did the course. This time was my 7th grade daughter’s turn. Her little sisters came as well.

The museum is located in the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. He was in Memphis to support the sanitation workers who were on strike. They were protesting unequal wages and work conditions. He was assasinated when he stepped out on the balcony on April 4, 1968. The hotel has been rennovated and transformed into the Civil Rights Museum.

The museum is set up chronoligically. The first display you visit is one of the history of the African slave trade. There are images, videos and scupltures that help paint the picture of such a dark time in our history. My girls would get excited when they recognized something they had read or heard in other contexts. We listen to to a lot of Adventures in Odyssey… there are several stories surrounding black history throughout the series. That is where my girls learned about the Underground Railroad and Fisk University, among other things.

The displays at the museum do have a lot of reading which made it a little hard for my younger two. My eight year old really liked the displays that included phones she could pick up to hear interviews and explanations of different events. I loved hearing the interviews with actual people and not just historians recounting events.

My girls had a hard time understanding why black people weren’t supposed to sit on buses or go to school with white people. That is just not the world they have grown up in. They cannot understand the level of hatred that throws fire bombs into a bus or sprays children with high powered hoses. In a way, visiting the museum made my kids grow up a little and lose some innocence. I hope they will always be appauled by what they saw.

There was a story of a 12 year old white girl who stepped up to take water to the freedom riders who were burned and hurting when their bus was set on fire. She did a very decent human thing- she saw a need and took steps to care for others. Because she was 12, she was too young to be put on trial or taken to jail for giving help. My girls got so excited about the thought… they started imagining what it would have been like to be there and help her as she helped others.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”

Martin Luther King Jr.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

A question I try to ask my kids after we visit a museum, watch a movie, read a book is, “What do you think the creator of this wanted you to know?” My son said, when asked about the Civil Rights Museum, “The history of our country… the good and the bad… things we shouldn’t repeat.” My 7th grade daughter said, “The work of Martin Luther King Jr. so we can keep it going.”

Do you have a Civil Rights Museum near you? I highly recommend taking your kids. Start a conversation with them. Learn the history. Create a new narrative.

What resources do you have for helping your kids understand the Civil Rights Movement? Comment below and share the wealth.

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