A Chat with Adrienne Bailey

By Lesley Harris Colvett


Justin, Adrienne & Merritt Bailey
Photo by McKendree Walker

Whatwould the late Judge D’Army Bailey be thinking? These were some of the first thoughts that crossed my mind when the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in response to George Floyd’s death swept across the nation and our city in early June.

In Memphis, some of the peaceful demonstrations took place downtown right outside the National Civil Rights Museum located at the Lorraine Motel. The National Civil Rights Museum was the brainchild of D’Army Bailey (a vision and commitment that he worked wholeheartedly from 1981-1991 to make a reality) to preserve the motel where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.

“It is so sad that George Floyd’s life was taken. It was definitely a wake up call for everyone,” Adrienne says. Towards the end of the demonstrations, Adrienne said she went to D’Army’s grave and had a long talk, telling him how this one incident exploded as far as getting people up and out and on their feet. “I told him that it is the young people again. The young people have said ‘this is too much, this has got to change’.”

She has never seen anything like this, noting that when she looked on television and saw Black Lives Matter not only in the United States, but also across the entire world - and in different languages.

“If you look at the civil rights’ photos, the images of the protestors, it is 99.9% black young students, but if you look at the marches that have happened in the last 15 days, you see not only young people but you see black people, brown people, yellow people and white people.

This is resonating beyond a civil rights’ issue but it is also about humanity,” Adrienne says.

“D’Army knew power in engagement, understood it, knew how to use it, and how to be a part of it. That is what is so provocative about it what is happening now. These young people are realizing: We can change this, we have power and are going to use that power and organize. I think this will go beyond just marching and demonstrating. We are going to change policies and practices,” Adrienne says.

Adrienne found the coordination and consistent engagement and involvement remarkable. “They demonstrated to the world that they will not let this go. It has gone too long, too far.”
That’s what makes D’Army’s work with the Civil Rights Museum decades ago so amazing and pertinent in 2020. Adrienne says that “He got it a long time ago. And by creating that museum, he wanted it to be more than that balcony. He wanted it to be a place of learning where it could be documented and chronicled about the Civil Rights Movement. Knowledge is powerful, and if you have knowledge that is what makes you powerful.”

Adrienne comments that Memphis is a demonstration city. “This was not our first rodeo at it. The organizers were young, and very, very peaceful for the most part.” She adds that the timing of these demonstrations is so powerful...this issue of civil rights, and the rights of brown and black people is far more important than even the Pandemic. There is far more work to be done. The demonstrations were the outcry, and now is the time to roll up sleeves and get the work done.

For more information on the National Civil Rights Museum, visit www.civilrightsmuseum.org.

Looking Back & Looking Forward