Every day at the Cotton Museum, we encounter those who have never heard much about cotton and those who never want to hear about it again. The Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange is a history museum. It is also an agricultural museum. But, perhaps, it is mostly a cultural museum. In earlier times, cotton caused the convergence of cultures creating many new concepts and practices along the way. This continues today, and we see it happening daily.
In the past year, we have hosted neighbors, tourists, and business people from near and far. There have been those who came to reminisce and those who came to discover. The one thing they all have in common is a desire for information. The Cotton Museum enjoys the privilege of educating people about “the plant that changed the world.” It is for this reason, I typically refrain from identifying any of our guests as students. They are all students. It is an honor to be given the opportunity to encounter so many who are motivated by knowledge. We believe we fulfill a noble mission. Support from our contributors affords us this opportunity.
The donations we receive allow us to be generous in granting reduced admission to schools. This results in our being a perennial favorite among teachers when planning field trips. In 2018, we granted free and reduced admission to over 1,000 children. These are children who more than likely would not have the opportunity to visit a museum such as ours; but, more importantly, they are children who would not likely choose to visit either. Yet, because of our supporters, they have been here, and others continue to come.
We recently have had school groups from Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Charleston, West Virginia; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and, Buffalo Island, Arkansas. Delta State from Cleveland, MS, makes us a regular stop for their annual teacher symposium. Lemoyne Owen students dropped by last week to conduct interviews for a semester project. Also, C-SPAN taped a segment for their Cities program in our History Gallery. Your support allows us to continue to accommodate these and others with accurate information in an entertaining format.
This summer, the museum had a booth through Lausanne Learning Institutes at the new Crosstown High School. We were able to meet with hundreds of teachers and supply them with information on the museum. The funds received from our faithful donors enabled us to print a curriculum guide for distribution to these teachers as well as others.
We also had booths for distributing information with the Tennessee Department of Tourism and manned tables at the I-55 Welcome Center and the Mud Island Welcome Center. The Cotton Museum also had tables and supplied information at the 2018 Farm and Gin Show at the Cook Convention Center; National Ag Day celebration at the Ag Center; Memphis Public Library for their Libraries Rock! 2018 Explore Memphis summer initiative; and, we partnered with the Pink Palace Museum for the Tennessee STEAM Festival; and, also, the Church Health Center’s Screen Free Week project. Additionally, we were the benefit of the month for February for WKNO. These are all ways our members and contributors have enabled us to tell the story of cotton beyond the confines of our museum.
As a result of participation in several of these events, I was given the opportunity to attend Cotton, Incorporated’s Women in Agriculture conference in Cary, North Carolina. I not only learned volumes about the cotton industry but had my own appetite for knowledge further whetted. I have been eager to learn more of the story of cotton and have recently read, The Empire of Cotton by Sven Beckert, and The American Plague by Molly Caldwell Crosby. These books have been instrumental in giving me a greater understanding of the cultural changes which continue to this day brought about by cotton. I am convinced my eagerness to share this has enhanced the museum experience for others.
Recently, our museum hosted a photography exhibit entitled “Four Kinds of Y’all” by a group of noted photographers known as Due South. This exhibit began with an open house attended by hundreds including an entire bus full of people who had come from the Jackson, MS, area. Our History Gallery lends itself well as an art space and this exhibit’s unique look at southern culture was appropriate to our overall mission. However, our focus was the positive attention it garnered for the museum. We were in the Top Ten Things to Do in Memphis This Weekend in the newspaper and the show was given several additional write ups in various publications.
These are examples of how support from our faithful donors is multiplied both within the museum and far beyond it.
In the last few months, we have helped to celebrate a young couple who wanted to honor the ties their families have with cotton as they began a new life together. We have had men from Manchester, England, who reminisced and shared tales of how the cotton mills had brought their parents together over a hundred years ago; yet, they knew little about cotton before coming to our museum. A great grandmother brought her granddaughter by to see her grandfather’s name on the registry of past Exchange presidents. Third graders from The came to find out how the Mississippi River was used in the creation of Memphis. Teachers serving special needs classes came to let their students experience what it was like to pick cotton and stick your arm into a cotton plant ready for harvest. Japanese business men were excited to “see where it all began.” And, Broadway called. The production of To Kill a Mockingbird needed assistance with a line about a cotton gin and southern speak.
These are just the few moments that come to mind easily. This is a busy place and I thought you would enjoy knowing some of what your generosity makes possible. We do so appreciate your help in not just telling the story of cotton but in preserving the fascinating history of “an empire that transformed American culture.” Consider becoming a member, renewing your membership, or making a donation today. There is much to be done and we are just getting started on an exciting 2019!
The Cotton Museum is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization which exists to preserve the history of cotton and educate the public on this first valuable global commodity still so important in our world today. We appreciate your support in this important endeavor.