Memphis is the home of many unique stops along the Civil Right trail. But amongst those perhaps one of the most iconic, the National Civil Rights Museum. No trip to Memphis is complete without a stop to this location which is home to one of the most tragic sites in the Civil Rights Movement, the Lorraine Motel.
The Lorraine Motel was a motel listed in the Green Book, a book passed around in the African American Community with listings of motels and accommodations which allowed stay during the times before integration was embraced. The Lorraine was frequented by many civil rights leaders, but most infamously by Martin Luther King, Jr.
It was at this Motel that Martin Luther King, Jr. would make his final appearance to the public before being assassinated by James Earl Ray on April 4th, 1968. King, who stood on his 2nd floor balcony was booked in room 306 of the motel. His last words on the balcony before the assassination were spoken to the musician Ben Branch who was scheduled to perform that night an event King was attending: “Ben, make sure you play ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord’ in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty”. Moments later he was pronounced dead.
The trailblazer in Civil Rights and this tragic ending inspired millions to set forth in action and to work toward leveling the playing field, creating equalized rights and walking tall in the face of adversity. This legacy is one which still remains and resonates today.
From that moment in history frozen in time to the present the Lorraine and two adjacent buildings which impacted that day have now been transformed as a lasting memorial and presents an ongoing center for civil rights education to the public as a part of the National Civil Rights Museum.
Depicting not only the scenes from the tragic day, but other aspects of civil rights the museum stands tall in the face of adversity with grizzling accounts of wrong doings and the emergence of hope in the troubled climate of the United States.
A visit to this museum is unlike your typical museum visit. If you enter with an open mind and desire to learn you will be moved by emotion and will find yourself immersed in hours of knowledge. For those which are unfamiliar with the civil rights movement the visit can be a harrowing one to discover. For those which have basic knowledge your will be able to deep dive into individual moments which changed the course of history.
Room by room the impact of actions become more and more visible as you navigate throughout the museum. Interactive exhibits allow you to be a part of the story and learn more from a perspective which might not be familiar. Sit down in a church, a school, on a bus, in a diner, in a jail cell or become part of the picket lines. Learn what it was like to be a part of the past and how you can then in turn take this and help change the future.
The message of Martin Luther King Jr. rings through every inch of the halls all the while highlighting others which have paved the way for change. Those willing to connect with the past will emerge from this museum changed forever.
Memphis served as a pivotal marker on the civil rights landscape and still does to this day as millions flock to the museum and other stops throughout the city each year. Entrance to this exhibit is $17 for adults and $14 for children 4 and up.
Additionally if you are wanting to learn more about the movement and the community this museum is a part of several tours and packages in the area including:
Memphis Heritage Pass (includes museum and 3 Memphis attractions)
Memphis City Tour (includes admission to 2 Memphis attractions)
African American History Tour of Memphis (Overview tour of history including many stops)
Memphis Discovery Tour (also includes Rock ’n’ Soul Museum admission)