Saturday, October 03, 2015

Assassination Tourism, Part 2: The Civil Rights Museum, Memphis TN

A woman named Jacqueline Smith has been sitting outside the Civil Right Museum in Memphis TN for nearly 30 years.

She was the last tenant at the Lorraine Motel, in downtown Memphis, and her protest seemed mainly to be against the removal of affordable housing from the downtown area to build the museum in the motel.

I have friends I regularly visit in Memphis; it's a couple-three hours from where I grew up.

I remember walking by and speaking to her when the museum was under construction, when I was about 18 or 19,  25 or 26 years ago. I gave her $2.

She's still sitting there.

She now encourages people to boycott the museum, and she  has a sign reading, "WELCOME TO THE $27 MILLION DOLLAR JAMES EARL RAY MEMORIAL!"

And, well, she has a point.

The parts about James Earl Ray, the guy convicted for assassinating Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis at the Lorraine Hotel in 1968, are unduly extensive and interesting.

This guy was not your typical boring lone wolf nutball; this was something of a dashing career criminal hustler from a family of them. Jailed for a series of burglaries and frauds, he seemed to really get into the lifestyle after he escaped prison, jaunting around the US in a new Mustang, supporting himself (probably) with money from bank robberies, getting plastic surgery, living under assumed identities and attempting to make pornographic films in Mexico. He even took dancing lessons in LA, apparently dreaming of "doing the rhumba in some South American country" with no extradition. Ah, don't we all?

Hard to argue with the evidence: a rifle and binoculars with his fingerprints on them were found in a garbage can near a room he was renting at a dumpy rooming house nearby. His motivations and the possible involvement of others, especially his brothers, however, remain unclear.

He was arrested at Heathrow, travelling on a false Canadian passport, apparently on his way to live in newly-independent Rhodesia. Purportedly, he hoped to work as a mercenary soldier there. (There is no indication he ever considered teaching English.)

The museum does address various conspiracy theories, which James Earl Ray himself did plenty to fuel with cryptic shit-stirring comments throughout his imprisonment, referring to a mysterious smuggler named Raoul. The one that intrigued me is that he may have been seeking a sort of "bounty" on the head of MLK, that he thought various racist business owners were offering.

The Lorraine Motel is pretty dumpy also -- the room where Martin Luther King was shot was preserved just as it was at the time. I'm not sure why I thought it would be nicer -- it was the 60s and everything was just dumpier in general, particularly in a city like Memphis, which is still plenty dumpy. 

The actual Civil Rights museum part is certainly not uninteresting, also, and I was unaware that MLK was visiting regarding the Sanitation Strike of the time. Black sanitation workers walked off the job to protest the death of two guys who were accidentally crushed to death in their own garbage truck after trying to seek shelter from the rain there. (They were forbidden by law from seeking shelter anywhere else.)

The events surrounding the strike sounds at least as bad as the current problems in Ferguson, with plenty of violence from both sides during the protests, and tons of uncollected garbage piling up in the already-dirty streets of Memphis.

Like me, the world has gone so far, yet is still pretty much in the same place.


Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff, thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

What kind of money and teaching gig could I get with a BA in Political Science, a MPA (Masters In Public Administration, and an non ABA (American Bar Association) US law degree?

englishteacherx said...

Probably the same kind of jobs anybody else could get. They would want you to have a CELTA certificate, most likely, as you don't have any degrees in anything related to English or education. You might look into teaching other courses like history or politics or law in China.

Sumaia Mohona said...
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