National Civil Rights Museum
If you do nothing else while you are in Memphis, visit the National Civil Rights Museum (450 Mulberry St., 901/521-9699, www.civilrightsmuseum.org, Mon. and Wed.–Sat. 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. 1–5 p.m., adults $12, students and seniors $10, children 4–17 $8.50). Built on the site where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, the museum makes a thorough examination of the American civil rights movement from slavery to the present day.
Exhibits at the National Civil Rights Museum display original letters, audio recordings, photos, and newspaper clippings from events including the Montgomery bus boycott, Brown v. Board of Education, Freedom Summer, and the march from Selma to Montgomery. Original and re-created artifacts, such as the bus where Rosa Parks made her stand in 1955 and the cell where Dr. King wrote his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, help to illustrate the story of civil rights.
When Dr. King visited Memphis in March and then again in April 1968, the Lorraine Motel was one of the handful of downtown hotels that welcomed African Americans. The room where he spent his final hours has been carefully re-created, and narration by those who were with him tell the shocking story of his death. Across Mulberry Street, in the building that was once the boardinghouse from where James Earl Ray is believed to have fired his sniper shot, exhibits probe various theories about the assassination, as well as the worldwide legacy of the civil rights movement.
Visitors to the museum can pay an extra $2 for an audio guide—a worthwhile investment. You must check your still or video camera due to restrictions on taking photographs inside the museum. This is a large museum and it is overflowing with information, so visitors who want to give the displays their due attention should plan on spending between three and four hours here. A good way to visit would be to tour the Lorraine Motel exhibits first, take a break for lunch, and then go across the street for the second half of the museum when you are refreshed.
Admission is free on Monday after 3 p.m. In June, July, and August the museum stays open until 6 p.m.
© Susanna Henighan Potter from Moon Tennessee, 5th Edition