In Memphis, you can find museums where a dance floor dazzles with the reflection from a disco ball, an interactive history exhibit teaches while you have fun and a jukebox delivers a time-traveling soundtrack.
And, get this: do it for free.
It’s called “Free Day” – an experience that comes weekly at several Memphis attractions. Recently, I took the free-day route to the National Civil Rights Museum, the Stax Museum of America Soul and the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, learning in triplicate while having an inexpensive blast.
At the National Civil Rights Museum (Downtown at 450 Mulberry St.), Tennessee residents with a state-issued ID may visit the museum for free on Mondays from 3 p.m. until closing, which is 6 p.m. through Labor Day. So, I grabbed my ID and headed down there last week.
The exhibits were emotional for me. I was disturbed particularly by the exhibit reflecting African prisoners chained and crammed into tight spaces on slave ships.
Later, I made my way to the replica of a sit-in at a diner. Visitors are allowed to take a seat next to the exhibit models protesting segregation and even take photos. I chose not to do either, taking in the seriousness of the depicted scenario, which included a film showing people throwing food on the protestors.
Down a hallway is a red phone that I hesitated to pick up. When I did, I heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice as he spoke to President John F. Kennedy. It was if I was on the phone with the two iconic historical figures.
Towards the end of the tour, you can view Dr. King’s bedroom – untouched from his last visit.
I’d visited the museum previously and this time as in every other I came away thinking a lot of my ancestors and the rough road they traveled for my freedom.
Tuesdays are free days at the Stax Museum of American Soul located at 926 E. McLemore. From 1 p.m. until 5 p.m., there is no charge with an I.D. showing you are resident of Shelby County.
“Anyone who feels the admission cost is keeping them from coming, we want them to be able to come and enjoy the exhibits,” said Lisa Allen, director of operations. “We want repeat visitation and participation in the different programs that Stax has to offer.”
I’ve never been to Stax. With my mom in tow, I was greeted by friendly and helpful staff.
A short film recounted Stax Records’ history, detailing how musicians from different backgrounds were brought together to create lasting music. I learned of the recording studio’s abrupt end and the various contributing factors
The walls of the museum talk through records displayed ceiling high. I played a game that quizzed me on my knowledge of Stax musicians. Isaac Hayes’ Cadillac was the highlight of my visit. I’d never seen anything like it.
From vintage videos, recorded interviews and rare souvenirs to the gift shop, I loved the journey.
At the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum (my first visit), I donned a headset for a learning tour of the many talented artists who came to Memphis to record albums. Located at 191 Beale St., museum admission is free for Tennessee residents on Tuesdays from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.
An engaging story of music in the south – blues, rock, country, soul, R&B – is told with exhibits, movies memorabilia and through jukeboxes.
“We want to provide access to the museum. The locals should be able to learn about Memphis’ music culture regardless of salary. It (free day) speaks to our mission as a non-profit company,” said John Doyle, executive director.
Doyle is an advocate for young people – especially teenagers – becoming engaged in the museum’s offerings and Memphis itself.
“It’s important for young people to know their city from a music standpoint,” he said.
I’m hooked on free days – and the learning experiences.
(Destiny Royston attends Southwest Tennessee Community College. She is an MPLOY Youth Summer Experience program intern for The New Tri-State Defender.)