Through the Eyes of an Educator: Memphis, Tennessee

by Stacey Ebert /
Stacey Ebert's picture
Jul 06, 2015 / 0 comments

I think I’ve always been a traveler. From a fascination with accents of Camp America counselors at sleep away camp and being taken in by the ‘countries’ at Epcot at a young age, I was always interested in the world outside of my home country’s borders. As a high school social studies teacher, I often brought photos of adventures abroad into my classroom to enhance lessons and interest students. Tokens from travels, stories from the road and interactions with locals were often weaved into the curriculum to help bring textbook titles to life and add in the magic of a journey. 

This past December, my husband and I drove across the US from Long Beach, New York to San Diego, California. Taking the southern route, so as to avoid as much winter as possible, we drove on historic motorways and traversed the ever-changing landscape of the United States. I may no longer have been in the classroom, but we were most certainly, road schooling. Whether it was tasting southern comfort food in North Carolina, checking out the Clinton Library in Little Rock, getting schooled in Native American ancestral beliefs at Antelope Canyon or hiking the natural beauty of Zion National Park-we learned about the country’s history, people, cultures and values along the way. All were memorable, but Memphis, Tennessee stood out among the crowd.

Home to barbecue, blues, and beliefs, Memphis is a city that continues to speak. Sharing history through food, music, and continuity, Memphis has much to say and many visitors, tourists, travelers, and locals yearn to listen. Whether you’re looking to tour historical sites, experience the King’s kitsch, taste the flavours of barbecue, or watch a parade of ducklings who have been marching the same path for decades, every step in the city of Memphis teaches. 

Perhaps the most vivid history is displayed at the National Civil Rights Museum at The Lorraine Motel. The website and museum display slogans, quotes, lyrics, and statements of the time. Greeted with “This is the story of a people. Of hopes and dreams, of challenge and change. It is an American story. This story and struggle that started many centuries ago, continues today-with you”, the lessons begin even before you walk through the door. 

National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel


The site of the National Civil Rights Museum is on the property of the Lorraine Motel. Converted in 1991 to the museum, the motel had its own share of history. On the 4th of April 1968, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on the balcony of his room at The Lorraine Motel. Today, there’s an entire area of the museum dedicated to his life, assassination, the background, the situation and the assassin. The museum takes visitors through the history of civil rights - beginning with slavery, and journeying through the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws, and the entire Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ‘60s. Through visuals, oral histories, media, interactive exhibits, three-dimensional recreations, written histories, and many other modes of communication, the museum shares the stories of a difficult time in our nation’s history and those who inspired others to stand up for equality. Here, visitors can sit at a lunch-counter to be a part of a moving sit-in, share a bus with Rosa Parks whose actions began the bus boycott, hold a picket sign with persuasive petitioners, and be a part of a movement that changed the face of a nation. As a student of history, holding a bachelors degree in American Studies, this museum is a stunningly vivid depiction of struggle and triumph drawing visitors in to feel as if they are there living the moments as they occur. Young or old, this museum teaches powerful lessons.

National Civil Rights Museum

National Civil Rights Museum


Music has a special place in Memphis. Blues are showcased on Beale Street. Tourist trinkets are available and there’s food aplenty, but the real magic is in the music. Amidst record stores run by historians, and music emanating from just about every open doorway or window on the road, here, music is king. While Nashville is home to country, Memphis is home to blues. Legends are made here, those just starting out are in search of fame, and if you are an auditory learner you will be in your glory in this city. Step into BB Kings for even a minute, and you’re transported to a time when music reigned supreme and life was different.

Beale Street, Memphis - music galore!


For fans of rock and roll, there’s Graceland. When he was in his early twenties, Elvis Presley purchased the Graceland mansion and property. From 1957 onward, Graceland has been the home to all things Elvis. There are visitors who flock annually, daily, or those who make it a once in a lifetime visit, but all are privy to the inner workings of the mansion and get a glimpse into the life of one of music’s greatest legends. Aside from the obvious history of music and an up close and personal look at solid gold records, Elvis’s family history, interior designs, and endless luxuries are on display. The fifties and sixties are immortalized in the décor of the Jungle Room, the glitz of his outfits, the fonts on the posters and the lifestyle lived by a man known the world over as The King.

Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee


Another long-standing Memphis tradition is the Duck March at The Peabody Hotel. Steeped in history, love of animals and a sure to please adorable duck waddle, onlookers watch this parade of feathered friends at 11am and 5pm daily. No matter the age, it’s hard to stifle a smile when these little guys line up and march on cue. For over eighty years, ducks have been a part of the famed marble fountain in the center of the hotel. With a red carpet, a Duckmaster, a story to mark the occasion, and a call to begin their entrance, part of a city’s history is showcased in the webbed footprints of these friendly fowls.

Duck March at the Peabody, Memphis


And then there’s the food. Since 2003, Central BBQ (just opposite the National Civil Rights Museum) has been ranked in the top 3 BBQ restaurants in Memphis. Huey’s Burgers has won best burgers in Memphis every year since 1984. You can taste the heart of this city through its food.

Cities are a great place for learning. Memphis oozes history through spice rubs, sound, and soul. Kinesthetic learners march along with ducks, auditory learners enjoy the sounds of the blues and chats with locals, and visual learners take in the sights at the museums. Take in a treat at a basketball game to watch the Memphis Grizzlies dunk, dribble, and deliver. Take your lifelong learners with you to experience barbecue, burgers, blues, and big-time history in this musical city in Tennessee. 


Stacey Ebert, our Educational Travels Editor, is a traveler at heart who met her Australian-born husband while on a trip in New Zealand. Stacey was an extracurricular advisor and taught history in a Long Island public high school for over fifteen years, enjoying both the formal and informal educational practices. After a one year 'round the world honeymoon, travel and its many gifts changed her perspective. She has since left the educational world to focus on writing and travel. She is energetic and enthusiastic about long term travel, finding what makes you happy and making the leap. In her spare time she is an event planner, yogi, dark chocolate lover, and spends as much time as possible with her toes in the sand. Check out her website at for more of her travel musings.
All photos courtesy and copyright Stacey Ebert