Behind the Headlines — April 4, 2014

Behind the Headlines — April 4, 2014


(female announcer)
This is a production
of WKNO-Memphis. Production funding for “Behind
the Headlines” is made possible in part by.. The legacy and the future of the
Civil Rights Movement in Memphis tonight on
“Behind the Headlines.” [theme music]
♪♪♪ I’m Eric Barnes, publisher
of the Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining us. We are joined tonight
by Daphene McFerren, executive director — Benjamin
Hooks Institute for Social Change. Thanks for being here. Also Bill Dries, senior reporter
with the Memphis Daily News. And Beverly Robertson, president
of the National Civil Rights Museum. Thanks for being here. Thank you. Beverly, we’ll start. First as we air this show, the
anniversary of King’s death. And you are also opening the
museum — major renovation to the National
Civil Rights Museum. Let’s start there and talk
a little bit about why a renovation, why now. Because it’s more
than just a paint and, you know, touching things up. It’s an expansion of the
philosophy of the museum. It’s the expansion
of a lot of things. So let’s start there. Well many people have wondered
why we decided to renovate the museum. Technically we started this
discussion about eight to ten years ago. Because what I had done is I had
done a competitive analysis of new museums, new history
civil rights museums that were entering the scene nationally,
many of which were close by. There’s a major one in Jackson,
Mississippi under construction right now. There’s a major museum in
Nashville under construction. And we knew that we
needed to freshen up. History has changed in the 20
years that we have existed and we need to update history. It’s not reflected on our walls. In addition to that, our
technology that drives the exhibitry — folks
couldn’t fix it. It was 20 years old. And so we had to totally change
the technological infrastructure of the institution. In addition, we realized that
people don’t walk through a museum and experience it the
same way today that they did 20 years ago. So we needed to make sure
that it was more interactive, that there were more multitouch,
multiuser kinds of mechanisms in the museum, smart tables. There are more voices of
everyday people there to inspire folks. So we changed that
museum from top to bottom. While the content
is still the same, the way that we deliver
that content is different. Daphene, again on
the anniversary, the Hooks Institute and the
newly renovated National Civil Rights Museum. The Civil Rights Movement.. I mean to say the
least, it’s role.. Talk a little bit about
it’s role in Memphis. But it’s also the
National Civil Rights Museum. It’s not just the history of
obviously in anyway just the history of Memphis. But Memphis’ role in that and
it’s importance to Memphis and then to the country at large. Well what happens in the
United States is in Memphis. Memphis is part of the
United States and the world. It’s not isolated. What I find interesting is
the movement in Memphis was connected and is connected
to the other social justice movements in the nation. Dr. Hooks and Dr. King were
friends and they were also board members of the Southern
Christian Leadership Conference, which was started by Dr. Hooks. Dr. King came to
Memphis in the late 1950s, long before the Memphis
Sanitation Workers Strike, to look at the organization
skills and the social clubs and the civic groups of
African-Americans in Memphis as a model to use in other cities. And so the Hooks
Institute’s mission is teaching, studying and promoting
civil rights and social change. And I say in essence what
that means is the institute is a catalyst for change
in the community. And it’s a compliment to
organizations like the Civil Rights Museum because our focus
is using the university or the acacdemy to preserve the history
of the Civil Rights Movement but also to be progressive and
looking at what research, what community activities
can result in improving the conditions of people who still
suffer from the same disparities that Dr. King and Dr. Hooks
tried to address in their lifetimes. It is.. I mean for the museum
and then for work you do.. I mean the museum isn’t
once captures this history. But unlike say the history
of American Revolution or something, that’s done. American history isn’t
done but that event is done. The Civil Rights Movement
was a movement in time. But like you’re saying,
there’s still work to be done. And so I guess I’ll
switch back to you, the role of the museum in terms
of present day issues of civil rights. One of the reasons that we
thought it was also important to renovate is because you
have to connect the dots. Many times young people, when
you talk to them about history, civil rights
history, American history, they say those
were the olden days. We don’t do that stuff anymore. Those issues don’t
occur right now. But the reality is is the
history informs the present. And it leads us
in to the future. So what we wanted to
do was for example, in Brown versus
Board of Education, we wanted to help people to
understand some of the things that are going on in Memphis and
in the world even today as it relates to school desegregation,
which was promoted by the legislation Brown V
Board of Education. Things are happening in Memphis
today that still connected to that. And when you look at that,
there will be things that will happening on an ongoing basis. So we literally have boards in
that gallery that allow us to publish things that happen right
now and things that speak to the future. So we’ve connected the past
to the present to the future. And we’ve done that
in our last film, which is called The Ellipsis
Film where we talk about and salute the achievements of
those who came before us. But we show three young people
located all across this country who are carrying on relative to
contemporary civil rights issue. Human trafficking
is a major one. We feature an
individual who deals with that. Technology for young
people, they deal with that. Immigration. These are young people that
are walking in the footsteps but doing it around issues that
are relevant to everyone today. Yeah, Bill? Part of the work of the
institute involves not only Dr. Hooks’ papers but the stories
that he told so many times of the movement. And I think part of the
institute’s work has been transcribing some audio tapes of
him just basically telling the stories of the movement and his
involvement in it and about his life in a Memphis that now seems
in some way such a long time ago but in other ways seems
as relevant as yesterday. Talk about that a bit. I think that one of the great
things about our country is how quickly things can
change in a lifetime. There’s much work to be done but
it also shows that people like Hook — my parents were civil
rights active out of Fayette County — and other national
leaders use their lifetimes to create a whole
different country. And I tell people when they ask
me well why is the civil rights movement relevant to today. And I said you
know America exports. We export
products, car, widgets, etcetera. We also export our
values to other countries. And I had an exmaple of that
when I was in Germany of January 2013. When I was
interacting with the Germans, they knew in detail
American civil rights history. And the American Embassy was
focused on American Civil Rights history. In the Arab Spring, there is an
exhibit now at the Pink Palace that in the Arab Spring, young
men in those countries and Egypt were holding up signs in Arabic
saying ‘I am a man.’ And that’s out of Memphis. So this is.. These are recent events. So the movement impacts — still
impacts America and the world today. So Dr. Hook’s
story is important. We have not only memorialized
his work and half his collection of materials, his personal
papers which span his life practically as a
lawyer, minister, judge in special collections
at the University of Memphis. And in case you want to
come take a look at it, it’s 397 boxes of material. So we’re getting ready to
digitize a portion of that collection. In addition, we have created a
film of his life called Duty of the Hour. And a trailer of the film is on
the Hooks Institute’s website. So one of the thigns that people
don’t know about Dr. Hooks is he’s an American story. Pull yourself up
by the boot straps. It’s that people don’t realize
he came from a hard working family with a
studio on Beale Street. Dr. Hooks family lived in Foote
Homes which is on Vance avenue. Those homes were built in the —
were existing anyway in the ’20s and ’30s. And Dr. Hook’s family suffered
from the depression and he lived in public housing. Dr. Hooks went to college. I’m sorry, law school on the G-I
bill because his family couldn’t afford to send
him to law school. And then from there, he came
back to Memphis because he wanted to make a difference
in the life of this city. So for young people today, it’s
important that they understand the sacrifices other people
have made coming before them. And the life of Dr. Hooks is
relevant to every young person today. Minority youth are
disproportionately unemployed in this country today. And the Pew Center,
which is shocking, sayd that if you are unemployed
in your teenage years, even with a part time job, it
affects your earning potential as an adult. So we have some issues to
address that deal with sort of historic issues of
how people perform. And I tell people. I have to give them real
stories to sort of make it real. I say my mother grew
up in Benton County, Mississippi, which didn’t have
a high school for blacks if you wanted to go beyond eight grade. And I said so I am the first
generation that didn’t have to leave the county to
go to high school. So it’s like being malnourished
if and when you’re a child. It takes a while to
overcome those deficencies. So our country has made great
strides in areas dealing with civil rights equality. But the Civil Rights Museum and
the Hooks Institute wants people and encourages our public
elected officials and community to question what can we do
to keep advancing the ball. And as part of that, we had
Mayor Wharton on the show in the last few weeks. And he talked. And we talked about a
whole range of things and, you know, taxes and
pensions and all that. But towards the end, there’s an
initiative that Obama started that he’s funneling about having
this conversation about — and you touched on it — the
notion of young black men. And I think I’m gonna
paraphrase Mayor Wharton. He said young black boys
are killing each other. And it’s a problem we
have to start talking about. We have to. We can’t avoid that fact. And is that part of the movement
or the conversation that it’s not about villainizing these
kids because they’re black. It’s about identifiying what’s
going on with this demographic of people. And then also
identifying the legacy. But is that part
of us coming along. We can have a calm
conversation about that, not a firey conversation. I think we can have a calm
conversation about that. But I think we also have to act. We can’t just talk about it. And when I talk about action,
I’m really talking about doing some things that will
give these young men hope. I think part of this is this
sense of hopelessness coupled with the sense that they can
make money fast because they’re looking at tv. They’re looking at
basketball players. They’re looking at rap stars. And they’re thinking well, I
oughta be able to make money fast and I want money fast. And if they can’t make it fast,
they don’t see a way to do that, they don’t have the hope that
they might be able to accomplish it. They may turn to other means so
they’ll redeploy their thinking from going to school, getting an
education because that takes a lot longer. I want immediate gratification. That’s a bit of the culture
that’s been created by what they see on t-v, by what
they see around them. So I think one of the things
that we have all got to do is not just talk about it. But we need to act. Each one of us
has a role to play. We can go over to Foote Homes
and identify a child an adopt a young brother out here and see
if we can’t begin to expose them to a different life. If they see it, if
they’re around it, if you teach them, if
you speak it in to them, they will
eventually get inspired. They need to see other black men
doing things with them or other men period who care about them. You can be white but
you can care about them. Give them some hope. And let me tell you. These kids are smart. My husband and I have adopted
several young black men from Foote Homes over the years. And guess what. One of them graduated from
Morehouse and has a really good job in Atlanta. The other one graduated from
Lane College and he is doing well in Memphis, Tennessee. So what I’m saying is
they’re not bad kids. It’s all about what
they’re exposed to. It’s all about somebody just
thinking enough about them to want to do something for them. And each of us,
everybody in Memphis, Tennessee can do just that. As each of your institutions
work and document the framework of the movement as we knew it
in the ’60s and in to the early ’70s, it seems to me as
if when I look at it, that framework was so basic
because it had to be because the oppression was so overwhelming
that people in the movement faced that that was literally
all that they had to affect social change. Is that the key to
the durablility of it? That it was built on
basic human relationships, basic interaction
between people. Is that the key to durability? I think
circumstances have changed. The family unit is different now
than it was 40 or 50 years ago, particularly as it relates to
driving change in our community. It’s a little bit mre complex
although I think the solutions have to be simple. But I think you have to deal
with the complexity of the issues. And I think in doing that, I
think you have to collaborate. We have to look at how do we
really minimize and reduce poverty. Because people can’t pay
attention if they can’t eat. People can’t pay attention if
they don’t have somebody in the home that is looking
after their basic needs. So we need to
begin to address that. Once you begin to address the
issue of poverty and then you address the issue of education,
it is a mindset change. But the solutions have to be
simple and like Daphene said. You tell a story
and people get it. It has to be in terms that
resonate with a target audience that you approach. And you talk
maybe about poverty. You know poverty is not
exclusively people of color. We had somebody on the show
talking about Medicaid and political thing, the
Medicaid expansion and all that. And whoever it was pointed it
out that the majority of people eligible for Medicaid in
Tennessee are something like 40 or 50-year-old white men. Absolutely. Stuck in poverty. And it’s generational poverty. And so is that part of expanding
the mission of social change? Poverty has always been
an issue of civil rights. When Dr. Hooks was.. I’m sorry. When Dr. King was assassinated,
he was taking on the war on poverty through the
Poor People’s Campaign. And just going back to the
question of are there simple solutions, I’d like to point out
that the Civil Rights Museum, what we call the
modern movement, which we associate with Dr. King
and the 1950s moving forward, that’s the modern movement. But that movement for to abolish
slavery and mistreatment of blacks, which we call the
long history of the civil rights movement began two to three
hundred years before the Civil Rights Museum — civil
rights movement began. So it didn’t happen overnight. There were abolitionists who
were working hard in the 1800s. In 1909, the N-A-A-C-P was
formed in Niagara Falls. W. E. B. DuBois. There are lots of people
leading up to Dr. King. And Dr. King was also influenced
by Ghandi in another country. So when we talk about current
issues of current poverty, they’re not going to be resolved
overnight becasue they didn’t occur overnight. And you’re right. There are more poor white people
in the United States than black people. But disproportonately,
unfortunately black people disproportionately are in
poverty when you look at the numbers. So to address these issues, we
have to first I think conclude that we don’t have anybody in
our communities we can lose, that everyone’s valuable. Secondly with respect to the
issue — and I’m doing a very narrow issue here with
respect to black men. We have to realize that both
black and white men are — form the foundation. You know women do too. But men form the
foundation of our communities. And if you lose 50%.. And that’s, you know,
you can lose your males, especially the black
American community, you destabilize the communities. Also, we have to understand that
not everyone has the tools to understand how to
get out of poverty. Right. That some of the things that we
assume being middle class people is because we live this life
unconciously through our network of friends who know how to
navigate and create friendships, wealth and maintain jobs. If you’re in poverty and you
don’t have access to those tools, then it creates
generational poverty. Right. I mean, isn’t a lot
of that education? I mean I can just tell a
personal story which is my grandfather on the
Barnes side was.. I mean my father
grew up on welfare, you know? And people.. I say that to somebody
and they’re like what, huh. You know I went to college and
graduate school and all that. My father got out and you
mentioned the G-I bill. He escaped that cycle through
education and then passed it along to his children
and I to my children. So you mentioned schools before. Is that, I mean, on some
level where it started? Well I think it actually starts. You know, let me go
back to when I grew up. It started in the home. It started with my parents. And it started with them
being working class citizens who really provided and who
really reinforced the value of education and told us
you can do anything. But you’ve got to get
an education first. You can’t just go
out there and do it. So education is a
fundamental piece of it. But I do think that in most
communities you have and most ethnicities, there are two
parents in the household. When one is gone and
one is the bread-earner, there’s only one there. It makes it very difficult for
those children to have the kind of reinforcement, to have
to meet their basic needs, to do the things that they need
to do to really just stay in school and focus on education. And there are lots of other
variables that impact them. Yes, it is about education. But how do we get them to focus
on understanding that this is indeed their way out? Yeah. Bill? You’ve talked about the long
arc of what we know as the civil rights movement. One of the things that I was
most struck by in the rennovated museum is one of the first areas
that documents and outlines what the slave trade was about. What I found most
striking is that in this secton, there is a rotunda-like feature. I don’t know the
exact architectural term. And on it are the beginning
words of the Declaration of Independence and an exhibit
about slavery before there was a Declaration of Independence
and the origins of it. That to me tied much of
this long arc together for me. That was a scope in the museum
that I don’t think existed in the initial plans in 1991
when the museum opened. Absolutely. That exhibit gallery also has
the cut out of a slave ship and characters in the
bottom of the ship. It has space so that individuals
that are small enough can acutally crouch down and feel
the inhumanity of what it must have felt like to cross the
Middle Passage in that state. And it also has a map of the
world where people can actually walk the path of a slave trade. So it goes from Africa to
West Indies on to North America. And what you begin to realize
is that enslaved people became commodities. They were traded from rum and
tobacco and cotton and sugar. That means that the slave trade
or enslaved people built the global economy. They were the global economy. They created Wall Street because
they were exchanged for money. So a lot of people don’t know
a little bit of that history. In addition to that, there’s
this discussion of debate between the founding fathers
who took different positions on slavery. Some were for it and
some were against it. Usually the ones against it
represented some of the southern states because that was
their source of income. That drove their economy. So that is so powerful. There’s an auction block where
there’s a mother and a baby and an auctioneer. And we do know that children
were ripped from the arms of their mothers. So it really engages you in a
visceral way and helps you to understand the early
beginnings of this country. And I think that is really
important because that’s important to before you
go in to the next gallery, which is about the film. So that first gallery
takes you from slavery up to reconstruction and then the film
takes you through reconstruction up to Jim Crow. As we get further from the ’60s
and the ’70s in terms of time, you talk about history changing. We know things now that we
didn’t know then even about those events that were
only 50, 60 years ago. Some of it was knew because of
the government surveillance of Dr. King and other
people in the movement. It adds value
obviously to what we know. But in the case of the Hooks
Institute Research for Social Change, is there.. Are there mixed feelings
about having that information available about the movement now
to better define it even though it was not gathered
for those purposes? Well I mean first of all,
we are an open society, okay? And I don’t.. I hate the issue. I don’t know why people would
think that Dr. King would have to be perfect in character, that
he has to be examined under a microscope for us to acknowledge
the great leadership he provided this nation. He scarificed his life and
created changes that were sweeping and transformative and
studied by every country on this planet. And I think the focus on
people’s personal lives even today is sometimes too
intrusive and often unwarranted. So if anything, it shows. Yes, it does show that he
had character flaws but the greatness that he had
despite those character flaws. And also says something
about how we should monitor our government. And that’s a contemporary
issue as you know with N-S-A surveillance. So it’s important to have these
open records so that we examine the people who are being
examined as well as the people who are doing the examining. And so that’s important. It’s also important to do
what the Hook Institute and the National Civil Rights Museum is
doing in preserving this history but not lose sight of the fact
that the reason we are here is to advance the ball. And so one way of doing it that
Beverly is doing through the Civil Rights Museum as far as to
engage people in thought about how they can create change. The Hooks Institute is doing it,
trying to meet people where they are in this age of media
by creating documentaries, as I said, on Dr. Hooks. The Memphis Thirteen, that
was funded in part by the Hooks Institute, which looks at
the first 13 students who desegregated Memphis City
Schools and how they felt about that experience. Freedom’s
Frontline, Feyette County, Tennessee, which has been aired
about five years by this station so to look at that. We also are engaging the
community now on issues that we believe came out
of the movement, desparities. So for example, minority and
African-American youth have the highest drowning
rates in this nation. So the Hooks Institute in
conjunction with Splash Mid-South, the city of Memphis
and the Y-M-C-A have this program called Splash Mid-South
where we teach minority children water safety instruction. So since that
program started in 2008, we’ve had 5000 children complete
the water safety instruction program and another
thousand on the waiting list. We have just a minute left. That’s interesting. You’re retiring. I am. So after 17 years? I am, after 17 years. I guess you get
through the renovation. Why now? Why retire now? Well I think to all
things, a season. And I think I’ve had my season. I’ve been through
two major renovations, an $11 million renovation and
now a $40 million comprehensive campaign. We’ve got a new National Civil
Rights Museum that is positioned for world class
greatness to do lots of things, to educate lots of people. And I just don’t believe
everybody oughta have a position for life. I’m not one to have
a position for life. The politicans maybe but not me. So I think it’s time. Alright. Well I guess I will congratulate
you on that and the rennovation and great career there. Thank you all for being here. Thank you for joining us. Join us again next week. Goodnight. CLOSED CAPTIONING
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One thought on “Behind the Headlines — April 4, 2014”

  • Myles Robertson says:

    Oh my God. That's my Aunt Beverly speaking on WKNO. She the president of The National Civil Rights Museum in Downtown Memphis.

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