“Martin always loved a good joke.”

Our food for thought today began when we all loaded onto the bus to the tune “Green Onions” by Booker T. and the MG’s, just one of the many popular artists from the Stax record label.  This helped set the mood for out trip to Memphis, TN, where we visited the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.  Here we were able to see the continued significance of music in the Civil Rights Movement.  It is interesting looking back and seeing the way the music progressed throughout the Movement, as well as the powerful effect the music and those who sing it can have on the people of a nation.  The thought process gets even meatier when you consider the popularity and influence of rap music that we see today.  Considering the power and influence that music had in those pivotal times forces me to wonder if we can be happy with the the themes and the direction that our music is helping to guide us in today.

Aaaaanywho, I digress…

From there we proceeded to the National Civil Rights Museum, located in Memphis as well…at the Lorraine Hotel, location of Dr. King’s assassination in 1968.  In terms of information and material, this stop was massive.  There were two wings of the museum with the first being in the Lorraine and the second being across the street in the building where James Earl Ray fired his shot from.  As mentioned before the sheer amount of information in this museum is overwhelming, and looking out the window at the balcony where Dr. King was shot and seeing the window across the street where it was fired from makes the experience surreal.

The balcony where Dr. King was assassinated

The balcony at the hotel where Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968

A view of the window from which James Earl Ray fired his shot

A view of the window where James Earl Ray fired the shot from

Our next stop added to that feeling as we met Reverend Samuel “Billy” Kyles, pastor of Monumental Baptist Church.  Rev. Kyles spent the last hour of Dr. King’s life, along with Rev. Ralph Abernathy.  They were preparing to leave for dinner at Rev. Kyles house when Dr. King was shot.

It was a thrill to be able to sit and listen to Rev. Kyles.  He mentioned that someone had once asked him what the three pastors spoke about during that hour, to which he replied, “We had preacher talk.”  When asked what that entailed he responded that is was things that preachers talk about and that it was really just “three guys talkin’.”  This is another thing that I have observed throughout our trip.  While myself and others on the trip and across the nation refer to Dr. King in a reverent sense (and rightfully so), those who interacted with him refer to him by his first name, Martin, and share so many things that can never be observed purely by watching the footage or listening to the speeches.  While many of us view his assassination as tragic, we are viewing it as the loss of an incredible leader and not as they would have, first as the loss of a dear friend in addition to a prominent icon of the Movement.

One example of something that they share that we cannot pickup alone is the fact that both Mrs. Juanita Abernathy and Rev. Kyles paint a picture of Dr. King as having a well-developed sense of humor (something that I think is totally awesome by the way!).  When I asked Rev. Kyles about this after he spoke, he confirmed that “Martin always loved a good joke.”  With the fairly stern image of courage that is always evident in most of what we normally see of Dr. King, this additional facet of his character to me helps to bring a legend to life and make the experience that much more meaningful.

Rev. Kyles also spoke of how he questioned why he was there at that point in time; why he had to be there for that terrible occurrence.  The reason that God revealed to him, he said, was that he was there to be a witness and to be able to share with others.  This was a very moving portion of his talk, as he became very passionate about this point.  It was also inspiring to me when I asked him afterwards if he had been afraid or concerned after the shot was fired that another shot might be coming for him.  He told me that the thought had not crossed his mind at the time and that all he was concerned about was that Martin was injured and lying on the floor in a pool of blood.  This impressed me as I believe that many of us, myself included, would probably have hit the deck or run for cover at that first shot.  The others on the balcony and in the courtyard of the hotel may not have been as well-known as Dr. King, but they certainly could be considered high-profile figures at the time.  And yet they were right out on the balcony without a second thought.

Myself and Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles

Photo with Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles

To wrap up our day, we hit up Beale Street in Memphis for dinner, in particular B.B. King’s Restaurant & Blues Club.  The joint was bangin’, as was the entire couple of blocks that the area encompassed.  It was a fun and relaxing way to wrap up the day.  And ironically, one of the last songs that the live band played just before we left was “Green Onions.”