National Civil Rights Museum
|National Civil Rights Museum|
The Lorraine Motel is now the site of the National Civil Rights Museum. The wreath marks Dr. King's approximate place at the time of the shooting.
|Town or city||Memphis, Tennessee|
|Completed||1920 (original building)
The National Civil Rights Museum is a privately owned complex of museums and historic buildings built around the former Lorraine Motel at 450 Mulberry Street in Memphis, Tennessee, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
Major components of the complex on 4.14 acres include a museum and the Lorraine Motel and hotel buildings. The complex also includes the Young and Morrow Building at 422 Main Street, which was the site where James Earl Ray initially confessed (and later recanted) to shooting King. The complex additionally includes the Canipe’s Amusement Store at 418 Main Street. The store is next door to the rooming house where the alleged murder weapon, with Ray's fingerprints, was found. Included on the grounds is the brushy lot that stood between the rooming house and the motel.
The Museum traces the history of the Civil Rights Movement from the 17th century to the present.
The complex is owned by the nonprofit Lorraine Civil Rights Museum Foundation. It is located on the south edge of Downtown Memphis, Tennessee in what is now called the South Main Arts District and is about six blocks east of the Mississippi River.
The first hotel on the site was the 16-room Windsorlorrine Hotel built on the northern side of the complex around 1925 which was renamed the Marquette Hotel. Walter Bailey purchased it in 1945 and renamed it for his wife Loree and the song Sweet Lorraine. During segregation it was an upscale accommodation that catered to a black clientele. He added a second floor, a swimming pool, and then drive up access for more rooms on the south side of the complex converting the name from Lorraine Hotel to Lorraine Motel. Its guests included musicians going to Stax Records including Ray Charles, Lionel Hampton, Aretha Franklin, Ethel Waters, Otis Redding, The Staple Singers and Wilson Pickett.
Following the assassination of King, Bailey left Room 306 (the room King was assassinated in front of) and the adjoining room 307 unoccupied as a memorial to King. Bailey's wife Loree, who suffered a stroke hours after the assassination, died five days after the assassination. Bailey converted the other motel rooms to single room occupancy.
Bailey worked with Chuck Scruggs, program director of WDIA and attorney D'Army Bailey, to raise funds to "Save the Lorraine" in the newly formed Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation, and bought the motel for $144,000, following foreclosure in December 1982. The name was changed to Lorraine Civil Rights Museum Foundation in 1984. The Lorraine closed as a motel on March 2, 1988, when sheriff's deputies forcibly evicted the last holdout tenant, Jacqueline Smith, in preparation for an $8.8 million overhaul. Bailey died in July 1988.Smithsonian Institution curator Benjamin Lawless created a design for saving historical aspects of the site. The Nashville, Tennessee firm McKissack and McKissack was tapped to design a modern museum on those portions of the grounds that were not directly related to the assassination.
The museum was dedicated on July 4, 1991 and officially opened to the public on Sept. 28, 1991.
In 1999 the Foundation acquired the Young and Morrow Building, and its associated vacant lot on a hill on the West side of Mulberry. A tunnel was built under the lot, connecting the building with the motel. The Foundation became the custodian of the police and evidence files associated with the assassination, including the rifle and fatal bullet, which are on display in a 12,800 sq. foot exhibit in the building. The building opened Sept. 28, 2002.
In 2012, Michigan State University Press released author Ben Kamin's oral history, 'ROOM 306: The National Story of the Lorraine Motel,' which chronicles the assassination of MLK at the Lorraine Motel site and the difficult campaign that ensued to save the motel from foreclosure or demolition and the eventual transformation of the site into the National Civil Rights Museum.
The Lorraine Motel had not only guests, but residents as well. The last resident of the motel, Jacqueline Smith, had resided there since 1973 as part of her work for the motel as a housekeeper. When faced with eviction for the museum project, Smith barricaded herself in her room and had to be forcibly evicted.
The neighborhood surrounding the Lorraine Motel was a lower-income, predominantly black area. At the time, the area had run-down homes that rented for $175 a month. The homes were demolished and later replaced with more expensive apartments and condominiums, as part of the rejuvenation of the downtown area.
Smith stated that the Lorraine "should be put to better uses, such as housing, job training, free college, clinic, or other services for the poor...the area surrounding the Lorraine should be rejuvenated and made decent and kept affordable, not gentrified with expensive condominiums that price the people out of their community." She has also stated that Dr. King would not have wanted $9 million spent on a building for him, and would not have wanted Lorraine Motel residents to be evicted.
Smith has maintained a vigil across the street from the Lorraine Motel for up to 21 hours per day for over 25 years, regardless of weather. She still holds vigil outside the Lorraine, although not as consistently as she has in the past.
In 2012, Tennessee Watchdog reported that the museum received $2 million in flood disaster relief for a flood that happened in 2011 — even though the flood never came close to hitting it. Museum spokeswoman Connie Dyson said that the museum suffered a loss of tourism after the flooding and the money was needed for renovation purposes. Museum officials would not provide attendance numbers to bolster their case that the number of tourists decreased.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to National Civil Rights Museum.|
- Welcome to the website of the National Civil Rights Museum
- "Eviction Empties Motel Where Dr. King Died". The New York Times. March 3, 1988.
- "Walter Bailey, Lorraine Motel Owner, 73". The New York Times. July 7, 1988.
- [dead link]
- Geov Parrish (2001-02-14). "The Longest Sit (February 14, 2001)". Eatthestate.org. Archived from the original on June 9, 2007. Retrieved 2010-05-05.
- Terry Dean. "Side Trip - Jacqueline Smith's personal, and private, crusade". Austinweeklynews.com. Retrieved 2010-05-05.
- Douglas B. Chambers. "This Dreamer Cometh: The National Civil Rights Museum - the long struggle to transform the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot, to the National Civil Rights Museum | American Visions | Find Articles at BNET". Findarticles.com. Retrieved 2010-05-05.[dead link]
- Mark Jordan. "News Feature - April 2, 1998". The Memphis Flyer. Retrieved 2010-05-05.
- National Civil Rights Museum
- National Civil Rights Museum — History, Hours, Prices, and Other Information
- TN History for Kids article about the museum
- Official website of Jacqueline Smith