2023 Tennessee Association of Museums Conference
In the United States, the fight for liberty, equality, and justice has a long and complex history. Through formal politics, grassroots organizing, boycott, protest, litigation, war, and a wide range of other mass and individual actions, people have continually challenged America to live up to our highest ideals. No place in Tennessee exemplifies this idea more than the city of Memphis.
Memphis has been the epicenter of revolutionary moments in American history. It created the music of the 20th century from the birth of rock and roll with Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats recording “Rocket 88” at Sun Records in 1951, the popularization of this new music by Elvis Presley, WC Handy and the Delta blues, and the home of soul and funk at Stax Records. This history is still evolving today through artists with Memphis ties like Justin Timberlake.
Other revolutions in the city date back to its founding. The Chickasaw occupied the land surrounding Memphis for centuries and mounds still exist where you can learn about their life and struggle for survival. They were forced off this land in 1795 when the Spanish built a fort in the area. In 1819, John Overton, Andrew Jackson, and James Winchester bought the land and founded and named the city Memphis.
For decades, African Americans struggled in the growing, new city. In the 1840s, Tennessee repealed its ban on domestic slave trade and Memphis became a major site of slave trading in the 1850s. Reconstruction brought a new kind of revolution to the city as newly freed slaves fought for their rights and freedoms guaranteed by the federal government. This era was marked by riots, violence, and waves of yellow fever. This struggle for civil rights lasted almost a century culminating in the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lorraine Motel in 1968.
As TAM gathers in Memphis for our 2023 conference, we will be just three years away from the 250thcommemoration of the United States. Many revolutions still simmer unfinished in the city on the Mississippi River and across the state. There are fights raging over the truths of history, the appropriateness of books in school libraries, gender roles, and political differences. How can we document these ongoing battles and fill a need in our communities? What creativity can we bring to the public square to illuminate these struggles and encourage conversation? What do we need to do to prepare for the upcoming semisesquicentennial so museums are at the table in planning and fighting for an inclusive commemoration that deals with our past through a lens of diversity and inclusion?
Join us in Memphis on March 14-17 as we gather on the river with the TAMfam to explore this theme, visit landmark historic sites and museums with national significance and prepare ourselves to be leaders in our state during times that may continue to be difficult but also offer opportunities for change that the revolutionaries who called Memphis home or just passed through could only dream of seeing.
NOTE: Unfinished Revolutions is one of the five themes outlined in AASLH’s The Field Guide for the Semiquincentennial: Making History at 250. The history of Memphis information is from https://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/entries/memphis/.