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Lorraine Motel.

Lorraine Motel: National Civil Rights Museum

Field review by the editors.

Memphis, Tennessee

The National Civil Rights Museum shines a spotlight on the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which occurred on April 4, 1968. MLK's assassination is pivotal to the larger narrative of the museum, which is sited in the former Lorraine Motel where the crime took place.

The museum traces the history of Civil Rights in America from 1619 (the arrival of the first black slaves) to the present through the use of informative artifacts, films and exhibits. Custom mannequins depict scenes of slavery and segregation, including an interactive display with a recreation of Rosa Parks on the bus where she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger. You can immerse yourself in the scene in a small way by trying to sit with her, which triggers a recording of an angry segregationist, shouting at you to move to the back of the bus!


Protest march.

Visitors pass through an airport-style security checkpoint to enter the museum, and the line often backs up out the door and down the street (The museum is popular with big tour groups). On the day we visited, employees stood at choke points advising people to move forward and not to turn back once they left an exhibit.

The path through the museum winds to the top floor and Room 306, next to the balcony where MLK was shot. The room has been left as it was on April 4, 1968, complete with used coffee cups and overflowing ashtrays. Visitors can see the balcony through a window.

A few hundred feet beyond the balcony stands the 2-story brick flophouse where the assassin lurked, and it's the next stop on the tour. Its interior, like the motel's, has been almost completely gutted and replaced with exhibits, the exception being the dingy bathroom from which the fatal shot was fired. Glass cases display the personal items of assassin James Earl Ray: his transistor radio, his boxer shorts, his six-pack of Schlitz beer. Despite Ray's later claims of a conspiracy, the museum depicts that he acted alone.

Firebombed Freedom Riders bus.
Firebombed Freedom Riders bus.

The National Civil Rights Museum is an engaging and powerful tribute that everyone will benefit from visiting.

Lorraine Motel: National Civil Rights Museum

450 Mulberry St., Memphis, TN
South side of downtown. Parking lot is just north of E. EG Patterson Ave. between Mulberry and St. Martin Sts.
M, W-Su 9-5 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adults $17.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

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