The Lorraine Motel, Memphis
The motel was bought in 1982 by the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Foundation to house the excellent National Civil Rights Museum. Inside the motel/museum, most of the rooms have been knocked through for exhibition space but up on the first floor, the bedroom King used has been reconstructed and on the balcony outside is a wreath next to the spot where he was shot.
The balcony features in this famous photo of the shooting, showing King on the floor and Ralph Abernathy and others pointing in the direction from which they believed the shot was fired – the rooming house on South Main Street, which has also been acquired and now forms a second part of the museum.
In Atlanta, in 2001, I’d visited the King family home and the King Center, where the man is buried. A few years later in 2006, in Washington DC, I stood on the steps of the Lincoln monument from where he delivered that speech, and looked up the Reflecting Pool to the Washington Monument and the Capitol beyond, and remembered the newsreel footage I’d seen of the1963 March on Washington. King was just thirty-four years old at the time; a year before he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; five years before his assassination.
Forty years on, it seems probable that Barak Obama will win the Democrat Presidential nomination, and likely too that he’ll go on to win the Presidency. He gave a speech a few weeks ago that some gushing commentators likened to the I Have a Dream speech but which was really a rather mealy-mouthed and platitudinous excuse of his relationship with the angry and bizarre Jeremiah Wright.
Obama, supposedly post-racial, cannot afford to remind the average US voter of other high-profile black politicians like Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson (who was on the balcony that day in Memphis). The days of segregation are not so far away that whether the US is ready for a black President seems to be an honestly debated question.
The increasing likelihood of an Obama win is exciting the Democrats and the rest of the US Left but it’s best to be wary of the less-than-critical reception he’s had so far. Remember the enthusiasm for Bill Clinton and the sorry mess that turned into, with a Republican Congress, Lewinsky, Clinton’s $25,000 fine and disbarment, the utterly cynical ‘prayer breakfast’, Kenneth Starr and the pardon given to Mark Rich. We really don’t want to repeat that.