10 September 2009

MLK's Assassination Site: Glorified Injustice or Humbling Experience?

Today I went to the Civil Rights Museum to drop a key off to a friend and I ended up sitting on a grassy knoll drawing, something I haven't sat down and done in a while. It was nice, even though it was unbelievably sunny and humid and my bandana was sticking uncomfortably to my unwashed hair. When I leaving, I noticed that lady that sits on the corner near the museum boycotting the museum. She's been there, on that corner, for 21 years and 239 days, as of today, boycotting the museum on the grounds that it is a monument to a great injustice.

On one hand, I can kindof see her point. It is a little odd to purposely and meticulously preserve the shitty motel where one of the greatest orators & civil rights leaders of the century was gunned down. I had to mull it over though, on the way home. I mean, it isn't completely unheard of to build museums or erect monuments commemorating the site of a great revolutionary's death. There are war memorials all over the South immortalizing great generals, prepared to go into battle, right where they were eventually slain.

But more importantly--and this is where I feel I get a little controversial--I feel like Dr. Martin Luther King's death was just as much a part of his career as his politicking and orating. I mean, it would be different to sanction off the patch of grass where someone like Ted Bundy died. But for a man like MLK, a man who made his career on preaching love, acceptance, equality, and peace: being killed by an act of ignorance and hate is... in a sick way, poetic. I mean, would his impact have been so immense if he had gracefully aged into the new millennium? I think standing in front of that small, frumpy, mint-green motel in the middle of what was a pretty undeveloped area of Memphis in 1968, seeing that tiny balcony, and realizing all that enormosity associated with MLK, his ideas and his philosophies, all ended in its human form with one tiny bullet, on that tiny balcony. It's... humbling. We as a species need visual explanation. When someone says that the national deficit is $11 trillion, I have no idea what that looks like. I don't even know what a thousand dollars looks like. If someone said a trillion dollars in one dollar bills in one hundred stacks measured as tall as the Statue of Liberty, I'd get it.

As sad as it is, 'martyr' is not a concept outgrown by mankind. We still need drastic examples to drill points home. Whether you're against black people or against white people, I bet you're against murder more.


Derrick Dent said...

It's a tough call. There's the old cliche that states that death is the best PR. It can also make legends out of heavily influential figures in history. That said, it still seems VERY morbid that so much reverence is placed on MLK's place of death, to the extent that a NATIONAL civil rights museum was built around it. There's so many noteworthy aspects of Martin Luther King's life that get lost because of the whole martyr worship thing. Long comment short, I think it's important to note that the fight for equal rights was worth dying for, but more emphasis should be placed on the fact that the same struggle was what MLK LIVED for.

K. Seagraves said...

i like monuments that celebrate the great forces of nature. i wonder if people see themselves as great forces of nature ... because "being" and "revering" don't seem so different. paradox?

i wonder whether or not many passerby's talk to that lady.

Lauren Rae Holtermann said...

Quite a few of them do, actually. There were two big busloads of tourists there taking photos and a lot of them were talking to her directly after visiting the museum.