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Walking In Memphis

November 17, 2011

Sorry, you know I couldn’t avoid that title!

I’m so glad I arrived in Memphis early enough to do a little sightseeing before settling down to work.

Brittany’s top Memphis recommendation was the National Civil Rights Museum, located at the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.

The museum traces the history of the civil rights movement, from the the John Brown raid and the abolition of slavery all the way through modern civil rights struggles. One of the most amazing juxtapositions of images was walking into the gift shop and seeing the New York Times edition the morning after Barack Obama won the presidency. How far America has come in 40 years.

By far, the most chilling part of the museum is seeing the blood-stained balcony where Martin Luther King was shot. Although the hotel room itself, which you can see into through glass, is reconstructed, that one block of cement was replaced in honor of Dr. King. A wreath also has permanently adorned the hotel’s front since shortly after King’s shooting.

A chalkboard asked visitors to define ‘Freedom and Leadership.’ My favorite answer: You can’t just accept things as they are!

If you visit Memphis, the National Civil Rights Museum is really a must-see. It’s about more than just Martin Luther King Jr., but expands into who we are as Americans and even the larger struggles for justice and freedom around the world. If nothing else, the 30-minute introductory video is guaranteed to bring you to tears. I just can’t listen to King’s ‘Mountaintop speech’ without getting choked up, and in the context of the museum and the video as a whole, it was pretty emotional.

Walking a little bit around Beale Street en route back to the hotel, I got a good sense of what Memphis is all about: blues and BBQ.

We got both BBQ and blues last night.

First: a barbecue feast at famous Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous. Bill Clinton, Justin Timberlake and Frank Sinatra have all eaten here, it was named ‘Best Ribs’ by Memphis Flyer four years in a row, Esquire calls it one of the ‘Top 5 Best BBQ Joints in America’ and Tennessee Magazine readers named it ‘Favorite Barbecue Place.’ So you know it has to be good.

I admit debating over my order for a while. Stick with rice and beans, or go carnivore for the night? In the end, I wasn’t quite ready for a plate of ribs but a giant platter of pulled pork was just right.

Not a fan of the coleslaw — too vinegary and tart — but the baked beans were incredible and the pork, needless to say, was awesome. So juicy and tender. No regrets.

Post-dinner, our group wandered over to Rum Boogie for some Memphis blues.

Although the band in the main bar area was good, the group playing in a small, crowded, smoky backroom was even better. It made me want to explore DC’s jazz scene more, since we have so many incredible, tiny places to hear live music around U Stret.

This guy could wail on harmonica like I’ve never heard before. Absolutely extraordinary.

I’m spending all day today at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and while I can’t take photos at the hospital, I’ll hopefully come back with some good stories to share. Plus there’s more barbecue tonight for dinner and famous Gibson’s Donuts waiting downstairs for breakfast right now. I don’t even like donuts and I’m looking forward to these!

Have you been to Memphis? What style of music is your city known for? DC is known for its strong jazz influence, with Duke Ellington its most famous son.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 18, 2011 11:10 am

    PULLED PORK!!

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