Come along for the journey!

Come along for the journey!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

22 YEARS AND 63 DAYS: (Memphis, Tennessee, USA)

 This is how long Jacqueline Smith has been sitting in non-violent protest, of all places, outside the Lorraine Motel where Dr Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. The motel has been renovated into the National Civil rights museum. Jacqueline advocates that people should boycott the museum on account of the fact that the 22 million dollars spent would not have been the way Dr King would have spent it - rather he would have spent it on the poor. Now Jacqueline was living at the motel for 8 years before the government took occupation with intent to convert it into a museum. Her view was that the building should have been used as a homeless hostel, that this would have further fulfilled Dr King's dream and in fact he was far too humble a man to have wanted a museum.

I think some people may write her off as a quack, chasing a lost cause, and a personal grievance. She has ended up in prison many times having refused to leave the building, spent over half her life being a visible nuisance to the museum and 'holla-ing' at the staff each day. But having spent some time with her, she is intelligent, well informed, and has a very good point - it got me thinking how much more poignant Dr Kings' message would have been if there had been a homeless hostel there in addition to the displays. And this isn't simply because I'm a 'Salvation Army man', but because continued action speaks to people as well as the great legacy of Dr King's life.

We disagreed with the purpose of boycotting the museum as we believe people will be very moved, inspired, and challenged by the exhibits. In fact we said to Jacqueline that with respect, our choice was to go and be better informed and inspired just as we were when seeing the place of the skull in Jerusalem, and Ghandi's place of assassination and ashram in Ahmadabad, India. We also said we'd support her cause of trying to get more money diverted towards a housing project by giving her a shout out on our blog, seeing as we have more than 10 people tuning in now! I also spoke with the staff to find out if ticket revenue generated financial support for any other of Dr King's causes. It does not - even the donation pot at the exit goes to costs like lighting in the museum.

You can find out more about Jacqueline Smith's protest at

Our visit was made all the more special when we met the Reverend Samuel 'Billy' Kyles. He was the man who invited Dr King for his final visit to Memphis to advocate for the sanitation workers conditions. He was a good friend of Dr King's, and was actually on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel when he was shot. We talked briefly about Jacqueline's idea for there to be a mission focused aspect to the centre. He kindly spoke with us for a few minutes, despite the fact that we stank having spent the night in the van in a multi-story car park (no camp sites and showers in downtown Memphis), and 'passed on' a nugget of wisdom to "follow your dreams son". He may have added, "…and take a shower".

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