Thursday, October 16, 2008

Civil Rights and Seismographs

We continue to be taken by the sunrises over the Mississippi. With every sunrise, sunset, and towboat passing by, I'm outside with my camera.

We toured the National Civil Rights Museum, which is attached to and includes the Lorraine Motel, the site of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination. The Museum opened in 1991, and in 2002 an addition to the Lorraine housing information detailing the history of the civil rights movement began its operation.

Among the displays were brief biographies of Nat Turner, Dred Scott, Harriett Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and John Brown. The gains included in the 13th, 14th, and 15th ammendments, followed by setbacks on the road to achieving equality (e.g., segregation through "Jim Crow" laws), were chronicled through newspaper, reports, and film accounts.

By far the most dramatic historical accounts of the decades of struggles were those accompanied by life-size figures of prominent figures in the movement, e.g., Rosa Parks seated on a Montgomery bus and Black college students seated at a lunch counter, and the bombed bus carrying Freedom Fighters from Washington, DC to New Orleans. (Visitors were asked not to take photographs inside the Museum.)

The Birmingham jail cell from which Dr. King wrote "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," a replica of a portion of Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge, and Dr. King's room in the Lorraine Motel provide powerful messages in their stark simplicity. His room, number 306, is marked with a wreath.

The displays provided information about some 19th and early 20th century events we did not know about and reminders of events from the 1960s to the present that we've lived through.

We also visited the Public Earthquake Resource Center, which is affiliated with the Earth Science Department of the University of Memphis. The Center has a special emphasis on the New Madrid seismic zone which extends from southern Illinois, southeast Missouri, northwest Arkansas, western Tennessee, and western Kentucky and includes three fault lines. This region has more earthquakes than any other part of the United States east of the Rockies.

Three of the most powerful earthquakes in U.S. history hit this area in 1811 and 1812. The New Madrid seismic zone has approximately 200 earthquakes per year. If quakes of similar intensity were to hit the same area today, it is estimated that 60% of Memphis would be devastated. While we were at the Center, there was a lot of activity on one of the seismographs. This may have been the 6.6 quake that occurred offshore of Chiapas, Mexico.

Michelle Dry gave us an introduction to the Center's operation and directed us to the computers that enabled us to check on the number of earthquakes in any region. For example, within the past six months, there was a 2.1 quake in Milford, NJ, on July 28.

The Center operates out of a small space and offers presentations to school groups.

We also noted that we will not be visiting any earthquake zones in the next six months.

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