With only one night in Memphis, we knew we had to make the most of it. Sure, we went to see the famous Peabody Ducks, poked around Beale Street, and even caught a bit of Elvis-mania, but our first stop was perhaps the most important: the National Civil Rights Museum. Housed in the Lorraine Motel, it’s at the very site that Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
I grew up in the south. Black History Month was a big event every year in school. I know the facts. But it’s a different experience to stand in front of room 306 instead of flipping through a history book. As we rolled into Memphis, the city wasn’t quite what I expected. It was empty… like creepily and eerily deserted. It reminded me of my brief stay in Dar Es Salaam. It was a weekday afternoon around lunchtime, so I expected people to be at work downtown and strolling the sidewalks. Instead, we just saw a bunch of guys sitting on a curb, smoking in front of a convenience store… that’s it. After a few wrong turns, we pulled into the parking lot of the museum and were relieved to see other people around.
About the Museum:
The museum is housed in two buildings: the Lorraine Motel and the building across the street where the assassin stood. The first part of the tour takes place in the motel and begins with an excellent video narrated by Dr. King’s friend who was present on April 4th. Following the video, you walk through the main part of the exhibit about the Civil Rights Movement and then get a peek inside room 306. After, you walk across the street to read more about the days leading up to the assassination, the search for the killer, and human rights movements in other parts of the world. While I was there, the Lorraine Motel also had a temporary exhibit on building the museum.
While it was a bit too much information overload (the wall presentations have so much wording that it would be impossible to read everything) it was worth visiting. As we exited the museum, we spotted yet another interesting character (pictured below) on the sidewalk. A former resident of the Lorraine Motel, she claims to have been on this street corner for 23 years, protesting the museum and what it stands for. When we went to go talk to her, she was on her cell phone. However, we gathered from the signs and papers on the table, that instead of a museum, she would rather see the motel turned into something like a halfway house or school to benefit the community. She thinks the idea of tourism and the museum goes against everything Dr. King stood for. I think her argument is highly debatable… any thoughts? Is the museum a good idea or a bad tourist trap?