On the weekend of September 10-11, all freshmen students from Rhodes College were taken on a trip to the National Civil Rights Museum.
This was surely a learning experience for all of those who attended, for the amount of exhibits and historical information and records that the museum provided were endless. After viewing the museum, all of the students were collected together in order to reflect over their experience.
Having been a freshman attendee, at the conclusion of said experience I was in conflict, to say the least; not necessarily by having to go from the outset, but because of how detached I felt from events that took place just 50-60 years ago.
All of the exhibits viewed the Civil Rights struggle from an outside perspective, only detailing the history of it - that's it. From rightfully detailing the egregious nature of the Middle Passages to bestial enslavement to regressive, oppressive tactics post-slavery, the National Civil Rights Museum detailed all of these deplorable happenings accurately, but it fell short in conveying the ramifications that these atrocities have on our culture and society today, and what this exactly means for the average, everyday citizen.
This is not a message for those who are well educated and informed on contemporary politics, or for those who know and are aware of the plight in which African-Americans, Hispanics, LGBTQ, the disabled and other minorities face in this country, rather a plea for the accuracy of representation. A plea for fairness, as an unfair assessment of the relationship between ostensibly ancient history and contemporary societal precedent will not lead to the necessary reform or change needed to right the wrongs of history nor will it bring our society closer to exemplifying the ideal of everyone being created equal.
An impressionable (or stubborn) mind could easily undergo the museum and come out feeling as if hundreds of years of slavery and another hundred or so years of Black Codes, Lynch Law, and Jim Crow has no effect on society today. That today, since there is no Jim Crow and no slavery, there is also no discrimination and inopportunity - no imbalance anywhere and that everything is now unmistakably integrated and unquestionably equal.
This is the insufferable truth in which the National Civil Rights Museum could plausibly inflict on some individuals.
The conflict I experienced at the museum could have easily been fixed if there was some mention of how our country's dark history afflicts our society today. From the creation of ghettos to discriminatory hiring practices to mass incarceration to generational poverty to so many other things; but unfortunately, the only relativity of today's which was mentioned came in the form of our first African-American president - yeah, the one that avidly supports the outsourcing of jobs that once provided for several low-income families, the one that cut public sector employment by nearly 800,000 jobs, with over 250,000 of those being in the department of education, the one who saw over 3 million more people added to poverty under his watch as income inequality continues to grow, the one who is the host of several foreign interventions which amount to nearly 60% of discretionary funding - this is the only representation of contemporary society in the National Civil Rights Museum. And no, unfortunately, they don’t mention those things about his presidency, only the sentiment of having “overcome,” as he himself perpetuates, or at best, stagnates the struggle of modern Civil Rights Activists.
This is my plea: for the National Civil Rights Museum to not exclude the struggles of today and to connect them to the struggles of our country’s past.