17. huhti, 2018

“I have a dream...”

“I have a dream…” Martin Luther King dreamt of a world in which his four children would be judged based on their characters and personalities, instead of the colour of their skin. That dream was a far cry from reality in 1950’s USA, especially in the southern states. Victims of that reality include people like Mrs. Rosa Parks, who made the mistake of sitting down on a “whites only” seat on a busy bus and ended up getting arrested and fined for civil disobedience. Racial segregation was everywhere in those days, from buses to cafes, restaurants and shops. Natural opportunities for interracial friendships were systematically stifled; even places of study were separated into “black”and “white” schools. Rosa Parks’ bold move did, however, spark the birth of the civil rights movement, along with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted for 381 days. Martin Luther King Jr. became the leader and spokesperson of the civil rights movement, which used tactics such as nonviolent civil disobedience. He lived by his much quoted principle; ”Faith is taking the first step, even when you can’t see the whole staircase” and is now remembered as an internationally recognised human rights activist and Nobel peace prize winner.

These kinds of things circle around my mind as I walk around the Memphis Civil Rights Museum, which extensively portrays the story of the fight for humanity. The exhibition includes lots of enlarged black and white photos of different protests and marches, and the banners used in them, demanding equal rights for all. Thousands of people joined the movement upon King’s appeal: “if you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, If you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward!”

The saddest part of the museum is by far the section portraying Martin Luther King’s final hours. Room 306 in Motel Lorraine remains unchanged since the 4th of April 1968, when King spent his final moments there. A wreath in memory of him has been hung on the balcony, on the spot where the peace loving man’s life was ended by an assassins bullet.

As I step outside of the museum back into modern day, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed at how little we seem to have learned from history or grown as people since the fifties. There’s still way too much public hate speech going on, fuelled by selfishness, presumptive judgment and ignorance. Thankfully there are still those too, who are brave enough to stand up for equality, human rights and that which is right, even against a mass majority when necessary. I leave the museum deeply affected by Martin Luther King’s wise advice: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”