A River Runs Through It – Memphis Musings


The Mississippi River Empties Into the Gulf…

and the gulf enters the sea and so forth,
none of them emptying anything,
all of them carrying yesterday
forever on their white tipped backs,
all of them dragging forward tomorrow.
it is the great circulation
of the earth’s body, like the blood
of the gods, this river in which the past
is always flowing. every water
is the same water coming round.
everyday someone is standing on the edge
of this river, staring into time,
whispering mistakenly:
only here. only now.

It has been a very busy second day! As we arrived in Memphis, we drove by a large park with a marble pedestal surrounded by a chain-link fence. Curious, we stopped to investigate and discovered that we had stumbled upon the site of one of the current struggles over the legacy of the Confederacy in the South. The pedestal had, until recently, supported a massive equestrian statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, one of the legendary generals of the Confederacy—and an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan. However, recent events— including the Charleston Massacre in 2015 and the Charlottesville demonstrations in the Fall of 2017–have prompted a re-examination of how the Civil War is memorialized south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Memphis has had to reconsider the best way to remember the complex legacy of people such as Forrest, and this has been extremely difficult.  The statue had to be removed in the middle of the night to avoid an expected uproar. Complicating matters further, we were very surprised to learn from a friendly local the pedestal doubles as a sarcophagus, as it contains the remains of Forrest. While the statue is gone, the status of the pedestal/sarcophagus is being worked out in the courts. The action did not come without political repercussions, as the Tennessee legislature stripped $250, 000 from its budget that was intended to help defray some of the costs of Memphis’s bicentennial celebration in 2019.  Once again, it is a potent reminded of William Faulkner’s observation that in the South, “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
IMG_4397On leaving Forrest’s remains, we heard a series of loud “pops” followed by an enormous cracking sound and a crash.  It sounded like an explosion! A enormous branch from one of the trees had just fallen down! A little spooky… Was Forrest causing disturbances in the forest?
After that adventure, we headed to Sun Studios to learn about American Record Producer Sam Philips and the early days of Rock and Roll. Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash all got their start at Sun. It’s a interactive tour and our kids had some fun posing with the original mike.
Our visit to Memphis would not have been complete without touring the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, which is located at the site of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination.  This year, they are marking the passing of 50 years since that tragedy.
We ate some fabulous food at Central BBQ and then headed over a few blocks to take
had our first peak at the mighty Mississippi –  a river that forever defines and redefines the Southern landscape and Southern history.
On our way to our final stop at the Ernest C. Withers Museum on Beale Street, we passed a marker that memorialized the incredible work of Ida B. Wells who worked as a journalist in Memphis. She courageously sought to expose the injustices of lynching in The Red Record.
At the Withers Museum, our enthusiastic and friendly guide, Veleska Lipford, told us all kinds of amazing facts about the famous Civil Right’s photographer (he left 1,800,000 of his pictures when he died)!

As we walked back to the cars to drive down into Mississippi, the flashy, neon lights of Beale Street illuminated the night.  Music pulsated through the atmosphere, and there was a palpable excitement in the air as the Sunday night party atmosphere began to build.

Alas, not for our group… We were off to our hotel and to bed.

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