Join writer and photographer Johny Pitts as he tours the Civil Rights trail of the American South to discover his heritage.
Memphis, Tennessee, is the home of world-famous icon Elvis Presley and a key stop on the Civil Rights Trail of the American South.
Memphis’ status as a leading light in the civil rights movement as well as a breeding ground for legendary music is well established. The city, which is nestled on the Mississippi River, plays host to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music which honours soul music and its links to the civil rights movement.
Stax produced Otis Redding, Mavis Staples, and Albert King and the modern day museum celebrates this legacy and the story that soul music tells of the struggle for civil rights in the US.
“It describes the pain, the unfairness, the hopes, the dreams, the disappointments; it’s all in the music,” says Deanie Parker of the Stax Museum of American Soul.
“Everything that civil rights represents is right here.”
Beale Street: Home of music in Memphis
Stax was famous for being a record label where Americans of all races could work together, bonded through their love of music.
Beale Street is another Memphis legend which is emblematic of the melting pot of cultures in the city. Elvis started out here as did B.B. King, who gave his name to a venue on the strip which is still open to this day.
The 20th century antics of Beale Street were documented by Dr Ernest Withers who photographed the glamorous goings-on in bars and nightclubs as part of a 60-year project on African American culture. His work is now housed in the Withers Collection Museum and Gallery.
“This street represents a place where colour wasn’t a barrier because entertainment was the element that brought everybody together” says Rosalind Withers, daughter of Dr Ernest Withers and owner of the collection.
Martin Luther King in Memphis
Perhaps nowhere links Memphis to the civil rights movement more than the Lorraine Motel, site of the tragic assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.
The work and life of King, who was in Memphis the day he died to support striking sanitation workers, is celebrated in the modern day National Civil Rights Museum located on the site of the Lorraine Motel.
“Our mission is to protect and preserve Dr King’s legacy,” says Faith Morris, Chief Marketing and External Affairs Officer at the museum.
“There should be no instance where folks don’t understand what him being in Memphis meant.
“This is not a memorial but an inspiration site to what Dr King meant to this world.”