After another hour on the road, the traveling classroom arrived in Memphis. Participants disembarked at the Cotton Museum, which is located on the historic trading floor of the Mississippi Cotton Exchange. In the South,”cotton was king;” from the sharecropping system to debutante balls, it determined the region’s social structure and supported its economy. The museum showcased cotton’s evolving role. New technologies for harvesting and producing cotton transformed the South as a whole, a process participants witnessed through interactive exhibits.
The next stop of the day was the Stax Museum, which tracks the rise and fall of Stax Records and the development of Southern soul music. Founded in 1959, Stax Records offered not only a platform for up-and-coming soul artists, but also a racially integrated environment where black and white musicians played together. Although the record label closed long ago, the museum and music school that opened in its place continue its legacy.
After lunch, participants headed to the National Civil Rights Museum. The museum is housed in the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King was assassinated. The facade looks as it did in 1968, with the exception of a memorial commemorating the life of Reverend King.
The museum demonstrated the power of thoughtful curation. Its exhibits progressed chronologically, beginning with the origins of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and continuing through the Civil Rights movement. From well-known figures like Rosa Parks and MLK, to the everyday achievements of ordinary African-Americans pursuing integration and freedom, the people whose narratives lined the halls inspired and challenged the group.