This morning we were greeted with a partly cloudy sky and some sunshine, which was promising after all the rain we’d had over the last couple of days. Perhaps we’ve finally shaken off the aftermath of ‘Gustav’.
We were up and showered in good time, then off down the road to the RV campground next to Graceland, Elvis Presley’s home, museum and final resting place. This campground is very conveniently located and offers a free shuttle service to downtown.
Memphis is most closely associated with two American icons, Elvis Presley and Martin Luther King Jr and we are keen to learn more about both of them while we’re here.
When booking us in to the campground The Chef asked about public transport in to Memphis, and was advised by the receptionist not to use the buses as they were too dangerous for white folk to travel on. I couldn’t help but savour the irony of this perception because back in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 Rosa Parks, a female Negro bus passenger, refused to give up her seat to a white man as required by Alabama and Montgomery law, and as a consequence was arrested. This incident sparked off the Montgomery Bus Boycott which lasted from December 1st 1955 to December 20th 1956. What a turn of events where once it was the white folk who made the Negros tremble with fear, to one where the whites were too afraid to get on a bus. I had to have a little smile to myself. As a really helpful motor engineer on our last trip back in Williams, Arizona said to us, ”What goes around, comes around”
Once we’d got ourselves sorted and settled we caught the shuttle downtown starting at Sun Record Studio www.sunstudio.com where Elvis Presley cut his first record and was subsequently discovered. The studio was also used by a number of other artists who went on to become famous including Roy Orbison (who lived in the flat upstairs), Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis & Johnny Cash.
There is a black cross on the floor in the studio where Elvis stood when recording his first record ‘That’s All Right’, and there’s a dent in the floor where Jerry Lee Lewis pounded his piano so hard it sank. The tour cost us $12 each and was money well spent as it gave us the opportunity to see where modern music history was made.
From there we hopped back on the shuttle and went down to Beale Street, famous for its vibrant bars with live Blues performances. We did intend spending the evening at B.B. King’s Blues Club www.bbkingsclub.com just for the experience, but come late afternoon decided to give it a miss. From here we walked up South Main Street to have lunch at ‘The Arcade’ www.roadfood.com which is the oldest restaurant in Memphis and was one of Elvis Presley’s favourite eateries. We avoid junk food when eating at home in the RV so that we can have the convenience of such foods on the odd occasion when we have to eat out. Today we treated ourselves to a cheeseburger each which were sensibly priced - it was the small bottle of beer each which doubled the bill. It was only afterwards that we remembered this lesson from the first trip, so from now on we’ll be having soft drinks or coffee.
Our final visit of the day was to the Lorraine Motel which is now part of the National Civil Rights Museum www.civilrightsmuseum.org created after the assassination on April 4th 1968 of Dr Martin Luther King Jnr who was shot on the balcony of this motel, outside his room number 306. He was staying there to participate in a rally to support the striking sanitation workers. Many famous Negro recording stars including Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding stayed at the Lorraine Hotel because during the days of segregation it was one of only a few hotels which permitted overnight accommodation by Negroes.
The museum was very interesting indeed and was a reminder of the hatred and resentment many white Americans felt towards the Negro population only 40-50 years ago, which in historical terms is very recent. We were two of the last people to leave when they closed their doors at 17:00.
With 30 minutes to go before the last shuttle bus back to the campground we had another quick look around the Beale Street area.
This evening is being spent at the RV. We have decided to visit Graceland next door first thing tomorrow and spend whatever remains of the day back at downtown Memphisbefore moving on a day early, as we will have seen all we want to by tomorrow night.
LOCATION TONIGHT: Memphis-Graceland RV Park & Campground 3691 Elvis Presley Blvd, Memphis, TN 38116. (GPS: N35.049080 W90.027914)