Remembering Martin Luther King Part I: The National Civil Rights Museum

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Located in Memphis, Tennessee, the museum is built around the Lorraine Motel the building where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. At the time of his death, The Lorraine operated as an upscale motel that was one of the few places in the city which allowed black guests overnight lodging. Given the Motel’s adjacency to the recording studio’s for the iconic Blues label Stax records, the motel hosted many legends of R&B such as Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles. 


After Dr. King was killed room 306 where he died, and the adjoining room was permanently closed, and the motel fell into disuse. The building was condemned in 1982 and was slated to be demolished. Community activists were able to raise over 140 thousand dollars to save the Motel and planned to turn the Motel into a national Museum honoring Dr. King and his work.

The Museum encompasses the original Lorraine Motel and several other buildings and strives to tell the history of the African American community from the days of slavery through the civil rights movement of the 1960s through today.

There has been some controversy whether the exhibit intended to tell the history of the movement (including King’s involvement) or to inspire activism and emphasize the ongoing struggles of civil rights today.  I personally believe a good museum should do both. But there is a concern by some Memphis residents that the museum could do more by becoming a community center that offered job training, or a free health clinic. Others including Dr. King’s widow Coretta Scott King have commented that the museum shouldn’t focus on being the place where her husband met a sad, violent end and instead be about fulfilling his life’s work of bettering the community at large.

Dr. King was standing on the second-floor walkway near where the wreath is when he was shot by a sniper across the street.

Martin Luther King was in Memphis due to an ongoing strike by the sanitation worker’s union. He gave a speech the night before where he mentioned he “might not get to the promised land with you.” It now looks like he was prescient, almost foretelling his death, but sadly Dr. King had been getting death threats for years and knew any second could be his last.

These words turned out to be an ominous swan song,. King’s speech the night before his death, strongly urged people to take up his mantle after he is gone.


The Museum strives to Cover the scope of the African Americans from slavery through today.


The Montgomery Alabama Boycott on segregated city buses is believed to the opening salvo of the modern civil rights movement.


The museum is very interactive and designed to incite curiosity and to foment discussion on the movement, and the legacy left behind.


The Motel’s interior at the time of the assassination.


A visual timeline of the movement


A “Freedom Rider” bus that had been burned. The Freedom Riders were political activists who would travel by bus throughout the segregated south in the early 1960s. The would give speeches and organize protests. The riders were both black and white, and the racially mixed crowd would often encounter angry counterprotests from locals. On Mother’s day May 14th, members of the Ku Klux Klan of Anniston, Alabama attacked the riders who were passing through the city en route to Birmingham. The fully loaded bus was firebombed, and the Klan members held the doors shut so that no one could escape. One of the Klans members was a local sheriff who told the attackers to let the riders out. Once out of the bus several riders were beaten unconscious and were taken to a local hospital who refused to treat them.

If you were to ask an average person to chronicle the story of the civil rights movement most people could only offer cursory details. The price paid to ensure the betterment of people of color in this country has been severe. Many people had to risk their lives and many people including Dr. King died in the struggle. Anyone coming to Memphis should make a point of visiting the Civil rights Museum and honoring struggle for equality.  The museum is not just about the past, but more a fitting reminder that equality is a daily ongoing process we all must participate in.


The national Civil rights Museum is located in the Southern Arts district of Memphis, Tenessee. They are open every day except Tuesday. Admission is 16.00 for adults and 14.00 for students and over 55.  Nearby points of interest include the Blues Hall of fame, Stax records and the restaurants and clubs of Beale Street. 




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