Annually on MLK Day and the day of King's assassination, crowds gather at the Lorraine Motel for special events hosted by the National Civil Rights Museum. The 2013 MLK Day celebration is scheduled for Jan. 21.
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MLK Day and More at Memphis’ National Civil Rights Museum

If you’ve passed by Memphis’ National Civil Rights Museum in the last couple of months, you may have witnessed a rarity: Visitors standing on the balcony outside of Lorraine Motel rooms 306 and 308, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was fatally shot.

Annually on MLK Day and the day of King's assassination, crowds gather at the Lorraine Motel for special events hosted by the National Civil Rights Museum. The 2013 MLK Day celebration is scheduled for Jan. 21.

The wreath marks the spot outside of Lorraine Motel room 306 (now part of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis) where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot.

Since the museum’s opening in 1991, the balcony has been closed to the public, though visitors have been granted a look inside rooms 306 and 308 via the museum’s interior.

That interior is now undergoing renovation – the most significant renovation since the museum’s opening – scheduled for completion around the first quarter of 2014.
Here’s what to do onsite in the interim:

1. Celebrate MLK Day on Jan. 21. Between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., activities roll on, including storytelling, dramatic and musical performances, live DJ entertainment, children’s activities, arts and crafts, food vendors and more. Admission is $3 ($2 if you donate a canned good; free for up to four people if you donate a pint of blood at the onsite LifeBlood Mobile van).

2. Take advantage of reduced admission and rare balcony tours. During the renovation, adult admission has been reduced from $13 to $10 ($8 for children ages 4-17). Admission includes access to the museum’s Legacy Building (details below) and the Lorraine Motel balcony, where visitors can peer inside rooms 306 and 308 – and walk to the spot where King last stood.

3. Spend some time in the Legacy Building. I don’t know about you, but every time I visit the museum, I get so wrapped up in the main exhibit hall, I end up rushing through the Legacy Building – the museum annex located across the street from the Lorraine Motel, where James Earl Ray boarded and allegedly fired the shot that killed King. I’ve visited the museum twice and have yet to feel as though I’ve fully considered the evidence and questions swirling inside the Legacy – was James Earl Ray the assassin? How did the civil rights movement survive the assassination? As the museum, and, specifically, this building, serve as custodian for all of the evidence and police files associated with the manhunt, investigation, indictment and confession following Dr. King’s murder, there is much to consider here – including the chilling view from the boarding house to the balcony outside of Dr. King’s motel room:

This is the view you'll get from the balcony of the Lorraine Motel to the boarding house where James Earl Ray allegedly fired the fatal shot that killed Dr. King.

View from the balcony of the Lorraine Motel to the boarding house where James Earl Ray allegedly fired the shot that killed Dr. King…

The National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee

…and the view of the Lorraine Motel from the boarding house, now the National Civil Rights Museum’s Legacy Building.

4. View a new exhibit, Freedom’s Sisters. Debuting on MLK Day 2013, this temporary exhibit housed in the Legacy Building will illuminate a group of 20 African American women, from 19th-century figures to contemporary leaders, who helped shape the civil rights movement.

The gate that greet you as you enter the museum's Legacy Building

The gate that greets you as you enter the museum’s Legacy Building bears a line from King’s final speech, memorialized as his “Mountaintop” speech from Memphis on April 3, 1968, one day before his assassination.

5. View plans for the museum’s $27 million renovation, to include new exhibits and an emphasis on interactivity. As one example, using a touch-screen map of the U.S., you’ll be able to touch a state to discover its response to desegregation following the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling against “separate but equal.”

What are your plans for commemorating MLK Day in Tennessee? It’s not too late to score tickets to Katori Hall’s play, The Mountaintop, in Memphis, should you need another suggestion – if you see me there this Saturday night, please say hello!

Hi! I’m Samantha Crespo, and I am Floridian by birth, Tennessean by heart. Growing up, I vacationed in East Tennessee, so I...Read on

TAGS: Memphis

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