Justice and History from the Blues in Memphis to the Walls of Derry

Memphis, Tennessee
Fountain City, Indiana
Warsaw, Poland
Derry, Northern Ireland

Travel has a way of putting a human face on history, and on justice.

History can be a good teacher, a source of ideas about what issues divided people in the past and ways — good, bad, and in between — they coped with them.

Civil Rights memorial in Montgomery AL, designed by Maya Lin (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Civil Rights memorial in Montgomery AL, designed by Maya Lin (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Learning these lessons happens not only in classrooms, or on now silent battlefields. or in imposing public buildings. Lessons of justice can take place on a street corner, a museum, or a former church. Reflections and questions can arise from seeing an object hands have touched or made, or hearing a story or a song.

Take a look at several of our stories related to the idea of learning about justice. Our insights and reporting may help you think about how people handled crisis, division, and justice in the past, and what may learned from that. You may find places you’d like to visit yourself, as well.

Memphis, Tennessee, has been crossroads before there was a city there — music, trade, travelers, and ideas all converged. Mike learned about ways racism wove through the history of the music scene in Memphis. He encountered the past and present of Beale Street and learned about the life of W.C.Handy, who’s often called the Father of the Blues.

wchandy memphis blues statue

Mike’s tour, led by Elaine Lee-Turner, co-founder of Heritage Tours of Memphis, concluded at a house in north Memphis, now a museum, which was once a stop on the Underground Railroad.

In the small town of Fountain City, Indiana, near Richmond, you’ll find the home of Levi and Catharine Coffin. It is a house, Sheila writes, filled with secrets. It too has its connections with those fleeing slavery.

Upstairs bedroom crawl space Levi and Catharine Coffin home Fountain City Indiana Underground Railroad (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Upstairs bedroom crawl space Levi and Catharine Coffin home Fountain City Indiana Underground Railroad (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

In the middle of the nineteenth century, when enslaved people ran toward freedom from places where they were enslaved, they sought out people they could trust to help them. Both before and after they crossed into states where slavery was not allowed enslaved people could be returned to slavery if caught, and there were prices on their heads.. People who hid fugitive slaves, gave them food, or helped them on their way — people who came to be known as members of the Underground Railroad– could find their houses burned and their lives threatened, so it was no light or easy matter to help. The Coffins, who were Quakers, decided to do so. They designed their farmhouse with ways to make this work. The back door could not be seen from the road for example, and rooms had two exits. The Coffin House and an interpretive center nearby tells more about their story.

People who lived in Warsaw in Poland in the years before and during World War II came to learn about hiding out, secret networks, and smuggling people across borders, too. Skye was moved by his trip to the Warsaw Uprising Museum. Through artifacts, stories, and recreations, this museum tells of the time in 1944 when the Polish resistance rose up against German forces who had occupied the city for five years and had, about a year earlier, violently destroyed the Warsaw ghetto.

warsaw uprising museum justice

The Warsaw Uprising did not succeed. German forces destroyed almost all of the city in reprisal. This devastation and what has happened since is one of the reasons Skye found his visit so moving.

I take you to Derry, in Northern Ireland, both past and present. In the 1960s and into the 1970s, civil rights movements in the United States inspired people in other countries toward protest marches and peaceful demonstrations. In Northern Ireland at that time, Catholics were often openly shut out of jobs, housing, and other opportunities because of their faith, and had been taking to the streets in effort to get things changed. On a January day in 1972, British soldiers, who had been called in because of the increasing numbers of demonstrations, fired on a crowd demonstrating in Derry. Fourteen people died, many more were injured. Murals in the area where this took place tell the story today.

derry n Ireland civil rights mural justice

These are just a few of our pieces offering stories from history and place of ways people handled crises of justice. Our twelve years of archives will help you find more ways to consider these ideas, including books, statues, monuments, reflective essays, and sometimes unexpected places to visit. What places have you been which helped you think about justice? Let us know in the comments.

Coffin House and Civil Rights Memorial photographs by Sheila Scarborough. Thank you for respecting copyright.

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