5 Star Stories: Traveling exhibit celebrating Pride Month now showing in Memphis

Published: Jun. 14, 2022 at 12:25 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 15, 2022 at 11:40 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - June is Pride month -- a time for LGBTQ+ communities to celebrate their freedoms. And in honor of that, a popular traveling exhibit created by the Newseum in Washington is now showing in Memphis.

This 5 Star Story is about “Rise Up” and “Memphis Proud” at the Museum of Science and History or MoSh -- formally the Pink Palace.

MoSH is only the third museum in the nation to host “Rise Up: Stonewall and the LGBTQ Rights Movement.”

“We’re taking a new direction with MoSH and this really is the launching pad of that in our eyes internally,” according to Kevin Thompson, the museum’s Executive Director. “One of our key things is to really reach out and get in touch with our community and connect in a much more meaningful way and to tell the stories not just of what’s going on nationally but, locally.”

Artifacts and images spotlight the milestones from the 1970′s, through the AIDS crisis, to hate crime legislation, to the fight for marriage equality and more.

“It’s a wonderful exhibit. Every time I’m in here as we’ve been setting up I just learn something new and it’s amazing; there’s several connections to Memphis and the national exhibit storylines that intersect,” Thompson explained.

The MoSH team also created a companion exhibit, “Memphis Proud,” through a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Raka Nandi, the Director of Exhibits and Collections, and her team began working on it last fall with the help of an advisory committee.

“So we reached out to local activists, to people who head up organizations in the city,” said Nandi. “We reached out to young people, to students — college students, high school students — so a wide smattering of people in the community and we invited them to come to a monthly meeting here at the museum.”

That committee and their contacts brought in local artifacts and stories for the exhibit.

“This is a community whose story is being archived multiple ways,” said Nandi, “It’s archived in the University of Memphis and through the papers of Vincent Astor. But it’s also archived informally by a lot of people and their scrapbooks in their home, in their photo albums and the things that they’ve stored away in their closets, right?”

As she put it, “LGBTQ people have been living and thriving and surviving in Memphis for a long time and this is not a modern story so, we start off our exhibit with actually a story about an individual called Frances Thompson who, in 1866, was a first record that we have of a person who identified as a woman and in1866 is arrested for dressing as a woman and we wrap up our narrative with the story of Brandon Allen who, in 2019 was voted in as a homecoming royalty a White Station High School -- a big public diverse high school here in our city. And I think in some ways those two bookends tell you a lot about how this community has grown, evolved, thrived and survived.”

“Memphis Proud” is also likely to bring back memories for those who visit. Like the part of the exhibition that focuses on the first gay youth organization in Memphis -- started at First Congo Church.

“So, that’s something that I think people who were members of MAGY — who might now be, you know, my age — who remember going to these meetings,” said Nandi.

The local component also touches on Memphis’ two pride celebrations, the Tri-State Black Pride and Mid-South Pride.

“These are vibrant communities that coexist and sometimes they have moments of intersections and sometimes they don’t and we can read a lot into it but, we can also realize that part of the reason why we have two Prides is because you cannot talk about Memphis history without talking about race,” Nandi expressed.

But, most importantly, “Rise Up” and “Memphis Proud” are celebrations of a community in U.S. history.

“So, I think this is definitely something that we hope families come to that we hope people with children who are LGBTQ+ come to, people who are allies of this community come to, that everyone comes to,” said Nandi. “This is a moment to learn and to celebrate.”

The “Rise Up” and “Memphis Proud” exhibitions run through September. For more details about any of the exhibits at the Museum of Science and History in Memphis or the museum, visit moshmemphis.com.

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