By Coshandra Dillard
If you ever want a soulful- and history-infused vacation, you should check out Memphis, Tenn. Sitting on the Mississippi River, just across the Arkansas state line, Memphis is Tennessee’s second populous city filled with numerous landmarks, musical inspiration and great food.
During my road trip there, Beale Street was the primary destination for my family. The entertainment and commercial district is legendary for its early black-owned businesses, the development of the blues and pioneering journalist Ida B. Wells, who was famous for her anti-lynching campaign and newspaper, The Memphis Free Speech. You could spend all day walking the nearly two-mile stretch of the cobblestone street. Soul food restaurants, barbecue joints, street performers, and bits of history dot the district. Nearby is a museum and a statue of W.C. Handy, deemed father of the blues, who performed on Beale Street often with his band around the the turn of the 20th century.
Of course, you can’t leave Memphis without visiting the National Civil Rights Museum, at the historic Lorraine Motel, the site of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. You’ll also spend a lot of time here, weeding through photos, documents, and relics of the civil rights movement. Outside the Lorraine Motel, which is left the way it looked in 1968, you can learn more about that fateful day in a video.
Love old-school soul music? Mosey over to Stax Museum, home of the record company that created hits for Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Isaac Hayes, and the Staple Singers, among many others.
The Pink Palace Museum is a great place for people of all ages. It houses local history, a natural history museum, a planetarium, and IMAX theater. For a lavish treat visit the Peabody Hotel, which hosts its famous duck walks twice a day from the hotel’s marble fountain to their home on the rooftop.
The Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum (the Burkle Estate) is another site to check out. It’s a small house that was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
An interesting experience was visiting Full Gospel Tabernacle Church, which happens to be led by Bishop Al Green. Yes, that Al Green. Look, I admire Green as a cultural icon but don’t go to his church looking for a message or a good word. His small church is filled with mostly tourists. On the day we visited, his sermon was a hodgepodge of ramblings, rants and a few lines from his greatest hits. A consolation: the choir was amazing.
*Memphis is about an eight-hour drive from Tyler. If you’re not much of a car traveler, save the headache of the road–and Memphis’ complicated highways–and take a flight.