Not all that shocking in Memphis
So, Ms. WPMAT and I are vacationing down in Memphis, TN for a week, since neither of us has been here before and it has a lot of cool stuff that we like (great history, cool music history, awesome barbecue, pandas).
We arrived Wednesday afternoon and spent most of Thursday doing the requisite music-related touristy things (Graceland, Stax, Sun Records, Gibson, etc.). On our way from Stax to Sun, we were held up at some train tracks, while a seemingly endless train slowed to a stop, remained motionless for minutes, moved a little, stopped again and then started going backwards. Not knowing the area, I was pretty beholden to the directions my GPS was giving me, so I was ok just hanging out in the car with the engine off while the train did its thing.
There were two white railroad workers, though, who came up to the car and asked us where we wanted to go, noting that it would be a while until the train was out of the way. We told them we were trying to get to Sun Records and they gave us some general directions that eventually led us to an underpass that got us past the train. Before we took off, though, they warned us:
"Make sure you keep your doors locked," one said.
"Oh, I’m sure we’ll be fine." I noticed that we were in a lower income neighborhood, but there was nothing that made me feel unsafe to be there. I had seen a guy in the house we were stopped next to take out a few aluminum cans to his recycling bin and then hop on his bike to ride somewhere. There was also an old woman pushing a child in a stroller.
"You’ll be safe after the 30th," he said "when they have your tax dollars in their mailboxes."
From what I could see, the neighborhood was predominantly African American. It wasn’t at all surprising to me that one of these guys was wearing a Duck Dynasty sweatshirt. I thanked them for the directions and drove away.
I realized later that it had taken less than 24 hours in the South for me to have my first experience of overt racism on my trip.
Other than that, though, Memphis is a lovely city.