“Power In Place"

December 11th, 2020

InaColorfulPlace Book Image

(published in The Daily Memphian)

(In a colorful place, a new collection of columns from Dan Conaway and Otis Sanford, autographed books now at Novel and Burke’s Book Store. Inquiries, danconaway [at] bellsouth [dot] net.)

I wrote those words for the cover of an annual report for The National Civil Rights Museum a few years ago. They came out of a conversation with the museum’s executive director, Terri Lee Freeman, about the direction she wanted the annual report to go, the message she wanted to give leading into the 50th anniversary year of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

She wanted the National Civil Rights Museum to move beyond just the preservation of things past into catalyst for things to come, beyond storeroom into inspiration, beyond where things finish to where they begin.

I’ve been privileged to work on a half-dozen or so annual reports for the museum along with designer Matt Young. Since reading in The Daily Memphian last week about Freeman leaving her post here for a new one in Baltimore, I’ve been thinking about the span of those annual reports roughly coinciding with her time in Memphis.

An inside out sort of time.

For instance, the one Matt and I did for 2013 was focused on the expansion of the museum set to open the following spring of 2014. We were concentrating on the enlarged space, the reimagined exhibits, the new things to see and do inside the museum ...

Tracing journeys traveled, marking milestones passed, we may know a way forward. Hearing past voices, timeless words stirring souls, we may find our own. Seeing with clear eyes what we have done, we may clearly see what we must do.

Upon the experiences of others, we may shape our own expectations.

Upon what has come before, we can rise.

To more to see.

Where we came from and how far we’ve come. How far we have to go and how we measure the journey. The heights and the depths. The pain and the promise. The stark and the stunning.

Then. Now.

To more to experience.

In the hold of a slave ship. On the bridge in Selma. On the street in Birmingham. In the heart of Jim Crow. On the mind of America. On the move in the world. In the march. In the room. On the balcony.

There. Here.

To more to learn.

About who we were and who we hope to be. Collective history and individual awareness. Monumental change and personal transformation. Come in as one. Come out as more.

Before. After.

Expect so much more. The new National Civil Rights Museum is opening.

And open it did. And we did expect more. And Terri Freeman arrived and gave us more than a new museum; she gave us if not a new perspective, a new and vigorous emphasis on that perspective. Don’t just view. Do. She asked us to take what we felt inside the museum outside and apply it.

That led to the message of the “Power In Place” annual report. I think it resonates. I would, since I wrote it, and I know I couldn’t have written it without Terri’s charge to look deeper into what the museum charges all of us to do ...


The past is not a destination. The past is a lesson for the present, and a warning and a challenge issued to the future. If we fail to learn we achieve nothing, we go nowhere.


We all are measured by what we do and – equally – by not doing anything at all. There is in our hearts a great capacity for passion, and when our hearts are moved, action is required.


Creativity in expression, originality in presentation, discovery in the moment, celebration in the experience, change in the air – there is wonder all around us if we look, there is a   path forward if we see.


We are all part of where we are, all sharing this time in history. What we will become depends on what we choose to take part in; on whether or not we will watch our time go by or play a role in shaping it.

When Terri Lee Freeman got here, The National Civil Rights Museum was a newly expanded museum. Under her leadership, it is actually becoming what it always hoped to be – focal point for the conscience of a nation and catalyst for change.

There is power in this place.

I’m a Memphian, and I’d just like to say, thanks, Terri.

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