There is a lot of fun history in our city. On a corner downtown, sits Sun Records where the likes of Johnny Cash, Jerry lee Lewis, and, of course, Elvis got their start. Walk on through Beale Street where neon lights and live music fill the air any given night. Splash around with the Peabody ducks, who nabbed some name dropping on this season’s breakout TV show “This Is Us.” All of these places are fun to visit and, while there, you can take some totally boss, smiley selfies with your travel mates. Every city has landmarks that collectively tell the story of that place. With any given city, though, the fun places don’t tell the whole story.
Some cities like Memphis, Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma, have some very different attractions. Attractions that most never learn about in school. In these places you will find monuments, memorials, and museums documenting the history of the mid-century American civil rights movement. The story of this movement paints the walls of these places with a mosaic of emotions. At these sites, you might see a picture, a plaque, or a statue of unimaginable violence next to a visage of great victory and freedom. In the shadows of the grave markers of children, resides generations inspired by their innocence, courage, and sacrifice.
At the end of the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Arkansas river in Selma, stands several monuments paying respect to a collection of the prominent figures that crossed that bridge in the marches from Selma to Montgomery. These marchers were protesting unfair voting laws across the south. Next to those monuments is an Ebenezer, a pile of large stones, an image pulled from the Bible to mark significant events in the history of God’s people. These markers help God’s people remember the story of that place, the good and the bad. Why did God think it necessary to mark our journeys with these monuments?
First of all, these landmarks help us remember. Throughout the Bible, God continuously reminds his people who he is. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega, the great I Am, the Lord of all, the deliverer of God’s people out of Egypt, the creator of all things, our Father, our King, our Shepherd, and on and on, are all images God recalls for our benefit. God establishes his credibility with us by recalling the great victories and freedom he has delivered and the intense evils he has delivered us from. We need to remember these things especially in times of darkness, when we feel farthest from God, and prone to disbelief. God answers those feelings by reminding us where we’ve been.
Secondly, these memorials act as a mirror bringing us face to face with the realities of our story. Our country was established with a broken system, one that denied the humanity of certain people. These are systems, though they have been battled, that we still feel today. Some would say we live in a post-racial society, that the images featured on the walls of these museums are from the distant past, that we’ve moved on, and we all experience equality.
But then we hear the cries white nationalists for a return to segregation, already very segregated worship services, the right to vote being challenged in certain states, racial slurs scribbled across the home of one of the world’s most prominent athletes, nooses being left at the National African American Museum, and so on and so on and you wonder have we really moved on? In some ways, yes, in others, no, but these mirror images from today and yesterday help to remind us of the work that has been done and the work still unfinished.
The monuments, memorials, and museums of the civil rights movement are not always fun places to visit. Taking selfies might be the last thing on your mind. The truth of America’s history of oppression is hard to experience in any form. The mixture of emotions one might move through while reliving these sites takes a toll. It is exhausting, but imagine how exhausting it must be to live through it every day. The long-lasting effects created by the systematic and cultural traditions present in America’s foundation have great influence on the livelihood of many people even today. If we don’t maintain and visit these Ebenezers, will we ever remember to change? If we hear the Lord cry out for justice, and ignore it are we not the people James is talking to,
“For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.”
Having hope that we are not doomed to repeat the ugliest chapters of our history begins with remembering the stories behind the landmarks.
Here I raise my Ebenezer
Here there by Thy great help I’ve come
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood
5 thoughts on “Here I Raise My Ebenezer”
I’ve been following your blog for a while and had no idea you guys were Memphians! 🙂 I live in Midtown. Great post – there are so many opportunities here to be confronted by these uncomfortable truths and take steps to make things better.
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We’re recent Memphians! We just moved three months ago, just got our Tennessee license plates today #ItsGettingReal! Part of the reason we decided to move was to be in a more diverse place! What do you do in Memphis?
Woohoo! 🙂 You chose a good time to move here, there’s a lot of revitalization happening! I love my city and am happy to recommend places, groups, activities if you need anything!
I’m a corporate paralegal. I also write, but haven’t gotten to do much of that for a while.
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Yaaassss!!! We are always in need of knowing the best places to do anything! We work in college ministry, so we’ve basically just been running all over the city meeting people in other non-profits to find service opps and stuff for students. Eventually we’ve gotta find some fun stuff for us to do for fun!
We spent a few hours over in Cooper-Young last week for the first time and went to the Young Ave Deli & the bookstore across the way from it and loved it.
If you don’t mind me asking: Where do you go to church? We work for Hope Church in Cordova, but love hearing about what other churches are like cause Hope won’t be for every student we meet!
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I go to Christ City Church. We meet in a school at Central and East Parkway, near Christian Brothers University. It’s a pretty young congregation with lots of college students (though not so many now in the summer). My e-mail is email@example.com if you want to talk more about church or anything Memphis!
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