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Wally on Wheels:  Wabash College Immersion Trip 2017

Memphis, TN

Joshua Derse, Enrique Vargas, Benjamin Cox, Gage Ulery

Memphis offered many opportunities to experience a strong presence of music. The city seemed to run on music, as if everything would stop if blues or rock was not to be heard in the streets. One of the ways we experienced the rich musical history of Memphis, was by visiting the Rock & Soul Museum in downtown Memphis. There we were able to view the progression of blues and rock by listening to examples of the music across the eras. It was a rewarding experience to hear information that we had already learned in class, which heightened the museum experience, as we were able to more fully appreciate the exhibits and what the music really meant to the development of our current culture. To see where our society has been has enabled us to better understand where we are now and where we are headed.

In addition to a strong tie to music, Memphis is also home to an abundance of Civil Rights history. One of the most significant events to happen in Memphis was the death of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King. Jr. Our group was able to visit the place where he was killed, which was at the Lorraine Motel. Standing in rooms 306 and 307 (King’s rooms) was a surreal experience. It was almost as if you could feel the mood in the air, the same mood of uneasiness and sadness that followed the death of King. In totality, visiting the National Civil Rights Museum gave an in-depth look into the complete history of the Civil Rights Movement. The important part was that at no time did we feel that the story the museum told was complete. This conveyed the message that the struggle for civil rights worldwide still goes on.

Out of the social and political turmoil of the time arose the blues, a genre of music which not only gave African American musicians fame but also served to make Memphis a cultural hub. Memphis provided us with more than an experience, Memphis educated us on the continued struggles of African Americans during the 1940s-1960s.

Rock 'n Soul Museum

The Memphis Rock’ N’ Soul Museum recognizes the music and musicians that were influential on shaping the city. The museum dives deep into the overall impact music had on the fight for equality within race and economy. Memphis, Tennessee changed the way music was played over the radio. Examples such as the Memphis radio station WDIA was the first station to have all black DJs. Overall, the museum discusses how African American music led to other prominent music and musicians such as rock’ n’ roll and Elvis Presley.

Beale Street

This photo shows historical Beale Street in downtown Memphis. This neon-lit stretch of land has played host to performers such as Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, and B. B. King. Given the large number of blues performers to have occupied the area, Beale Street has become associated with the development of the Memphis Blues style. Today, the blues still flows from live music venues and restaurants.

Upstanders Mural

“Upstanders Mural: Facing History and Ourselves” is located in downtown Memphis, next to the Lorraine Motel and the National Civil Rights Museum. This mural commemorates the hard work and sacrifice of individual men and women; each of them helped to drastically improve the city of Memphis in their own way. One of the men, Reverend Billy Kyles (1934-2016) assisted by bringing up and keeping up people’s drive and spirits with the word of God. Another person remembered on this mural is Charl Ormond Williams (1885-1969). She is the woman located on the bottom left of the mural, and is portrayed for her work on improving the education in Memphis. As a superintendent, she made the school district of Memphis one of the best in the nation.

Lorraine Motel

The Lorraine Motel was the site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This event took place on April 4th, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. The Lorraine Motel consists of a Civil Rights Museum inside that pays tribute to the complete struggle for civil rights in the United States. The highlight of the museum however is standing in the middle of rooms 306 & 307, looking out onto the balcony where King was shot made the experience very surreal. This museum chronicles the Civil Rights Struggle since the beginning of slavery to present day.

Movement to Overcome

The ‘Movement to Overcome’ Statue sits at the very entrance to the National Civil Rights Museum. This statue depicts individuals all unclothed and pointing upward, as if climbing a mountain of some sort. Looking closely, the individuals take the shape of the outline of the United States. Talking to the tour guide, this statue is meant to depict certain messages. Those messages being that the United States is a land of diversity and underneath we are all the same and that our country is a product of all who inhabit it.