A reflection from Memphis Freedom Tour

How the National Civil Rights Museum stunned me

Posted by Austin Kilduff on 18 November 2019

It was late on Friday morning and we had been walking through the National Civil Rights Museum for around 90 minutes. Beginning with an exhibit on the commodification of black lives in early America and continuing through white America's desperate cling to segregation during the civil rights movement, the morning had been tense and emotionally exhausting.

As we entered another room, I looked around at my fellow staff members. Everyone was wearing the grief of the day's experience on their faces, some in downturned mouths and furrowed eyebrows, others in tears, sniffles, and sighs. I'm sure my face displayed the shame, anger, and despair I felt throughout my body as well.

I walked in further. A video was playing on the back wall of the room. Before I even laid eyes on the screen, I heard the unmistakable voice of Martin Luther King Jr. and soon recognized the video as his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. I've heard and read parts of this speech probably a dozen times before in history classes and documentaries, but one part in particular was sticking out to me this morning - "I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."

After hearing the first few words in this allusion to Isaiah, I felt goosebumps tingling on my arms and legs. I stood with eyes transfixed on the black and white image of Dr. King, ears eager to hear more. With each additional word, chills ran down my spine. This speech and Isaiah 40 and the themes of Revelation 7 were nothing new to me, but through the confluence of these words amidst the hopelessness and frustration I was feeling, God was speaking words of living hope to me just as He spoke to Martin Luther King more than 50 years ago.

My heart still aches over the long but continuing history of racist dehumanization in this country. I don't suspect systematic discrimination nor my heartache will be solved anytime soon. But my soul feels refreshed knowing that just as Jesus trudged through misery toward the future His Father revealed to Him, so did Dr. King and so can I.