National Civil Rights Museum

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National Civil Rights Museum
Lorraine Motel 04 15 Mar 2012.jpg
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.
General information
Town or city Memphis, Tennessee
Country United States
Coordinates 35°08′04″N 90°03′27″W / 35.1345°N 90.0576°W / 35.1345; -90.0576Coordinates: 35°08′04″N 90°03′27″W / 35.1345°N 90.0576°W / 35.1345; -90.0576
Completed 1920 (original building)
1960s (annex)

The National Civil Rights Museum is a privately owned complex of museums and historic buildings in Memphis, Tennessee, which traces the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States from the 17th century to the present. The museum is built around the former Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Two other buildings and their adjacent property, also connected with the King assassination, are part of the museum complex as well.

History[edit]

Wide view shot of the Lorraine Hotel and the boarding house from where James Earl Ray was alleged to have fired the fatal shot. Police say the shot was fired from the second floor bathroom window (to the left of the pole).

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.[1]

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.[1]

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.[2] Bailey died in July 1988.[3]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.[1]

The museum was dedicated on July 4, 1991 and officially opened to the public on September 28, 1991.[1]

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 September 28, 2002.[1]

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 Dr. King 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 main museum closed in November 2012 for a $27.5 million renovation. The renovations, which were intended to not only update exhibits for historical accuracy but make them much more evocative, were guided by a group of civil rights scholars. The building was renovated as well, which included replacement and refurbishment of the HVAC and mechanical system, an expanded lobby, and a new educational center. Many of the museum's most popular exhibits did not change, such as Room 306 (where Dr. King died), the replica sanitation truck (Dr. King came to Memphis to support an AFSCME sanitation workers' strike), and the replica of the bus Rosa Parks rode. One major new exhibit includes a replica of the U.S. Supreme Court room where oral argument was heard in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education. The museum also now has several interactive kiosks where patrons can access audio, images, text and video about the civil rights movement. Visitors can search for text based on event, location, or theme. Many exhibits also now feature "listening stations" where patrons with headphones can hear audio about the exhibit they are seeing, and more than 40 new short films throughout the museum help bring exhibits to life.[4]

The renovated museum opened to the public on April 5, 2014. The Associated Press, reviewing the renovations, said, "The powerful, visceral exhibit[s set] the tone for an evocative, newly immersive museum experience that chronicles the history of the civil rights struggle in America."[4]

Location and complex[edit]

The complex is located at 450 Mulberry Street and owned by the Lorraine Civil Rights Museum Foundation. The main museum is located on the south edge of downtown Memphis in what is now called the South Main Arts District, and is about six blocks east of the Mississippi River.

The main 4.14-acre (16,800 m2) site includes the museum and the Lorraine Motel and its buildings. The museum also owns the Young and Morrow Building at 422 Main Street, which was where James Earl Ray initially confessed (and later recanted) to shooting King. The complex also includes Canipe's Amusement Store at 418 Main Street, next to the rooming house where the murder weapon with Ray's fingerprints was found. Included on these grounds is the brushy lot that stood between the rooming house and the motel.

Controversy[edit]

Jacqueline Smith protest vigil outside the Lorraine in October 2010.

The Lorraine Motel had not only guests, but residents as well. The last resident of the motel, Jacqueline Smith, had lived 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.[5][6]

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.[5][7]

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.[8][9]

SW-NE View of the site.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]