Coming to Memphis, and taking the Civil Rights Movement course has, in some ways been a continuation of what I learned growing up in Ohio. Several field trips throughout my education consisted of going to local museums, which were actually 19th century homes that served as Underground Railroad stops for African American slaves escaping from slavery.
One of the most memorable field trips I took was junior year of high school at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. It was a complete museum depicting African Americans’ journey from slavery to freedom. Although I had been to several Railroad stations previously and had seen many smaller exhibits in regards to the Civil War and slavery in middle school and high school, nothing compared to this exhibit. It was a total illustration of life on a plantation, the dangers of escaping slavery and life after reaching freedom.
Its location adds to the overall appeal and authenticity of the museum because the Center is in Cincinnati, which is known for being a focal point of activity pertaining to the freedom of slaves in crossing the Ohio River. The museum holds several exhibits with videos illustrating the difficulties of crossing the river without being caught by bounty hunters. It shows what high hopes slaves had of reaching the shore on the other side of the river and their excitement, yet also apprehension, in realizing they were one step closer to being free.
I didn’t realize how lucky I was to have grown up in an area so directly linked to the freedom of slaves. I took it for granted to go on these types of field trips during the school year. It made it more interesting as a student to read about the topic, then to go to a museum and see the basements in which African Americans hid, sometimes for days, to escape. That is why we are also very fortunate to be taking a civil rights class in a city like Memphis because it was the heart of civil rights and offers so many resources in regards to the movement. Books can only tell you so much, and can only affect you to a certain extent, but sometimes people may forget the books they read, or not understand details clearly. Actually going to places where historical events happened, or places that exhibit important events is so much more beneficial and memorable because you are much more likely to be drawn into the topic. That is why exploring the civil rights’ sites in Memphis is going to be a focus of mine throughout the rest of this semester and into the next because of the lasting impressions they make.