Class of 2020 Visits National Civil Rights Museum

a lineup of various banners posing political questions
Students Get Glimpse of History

Thanks to the generosity of Steve and Riea Lainoff P’11, P’15, in early September, FYE seminar groups visited the National Civil Rights Museum as a part of an ongoing exploration of privilege, race, and bias. Intended to encourage conversations on diversity and inclusion, the experience was enlightening and challenging, say the students and STAs who participated.

“African American history is American history,” says Tony Eskridge ’20. “We all know about Martin Luther King, Jr., but so many more people have been involved with the movement for freedom. The sacrifices made and the pain endured by people throughout history working towards equality for all is unimaginable.”

The museum presents exhibits on student sit-ins, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Jim Crow, and Freedom Rides, as well as films, oral histories, and interactive media. Built into the Lorraine Motel, the site of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, the museum strives to preserve African American history and heritage as well as offer education on civil rights. 

The museum was not only extremely challenging, but also eye-opening, says William McLain ’20, who felt the location of the museum added to its powerful nature. “After the museum, the discussion my group had was very encouraging; I knew that most of the students hadn’t just walked through the museum—they actually took it all in and learned,” he says.

Student teaching assistant (STA) Zaria Jones ’19 found the off-campus experience very rewarding, as she experienced the museum, one of her favorite Memphis sites, through a different lens. “Our group examined how events, movements, and historical figures influence how we carry ourselves as members of the Rhodes community as well as the greater Memphis community,” she says. 

Fellow STA Piyush Kumar ’17 says he was pleased that his group was excited to talk about which exhibits meant the most to them and how much they learned. “I am looking forward to seeing how much this group continues to grow as the weeks go on.”