So Many Tennessee Attractions, So Little Time
During a last minute trip to Memphis I found myself with the better part of 6 hours to explore the city and see some cool Tennessee attractions. I decided on touring the National Civil Rights Museum and Stax: Museum of American Soul. I hoped to add in a visit to the Museum of Rock and Soul since it is located close by but unfortunately my time ran out. In this post I’ll focus on my visit to the Civil Rights museum and save Stax for another day.
It was a chilly, overcast weekday and when I arrived there were only a couple of cars in the lot which provides free parking to museum guests. (This lot is only accessible from St. Martin street.)
National Civil Rights Museum Renovation
Through early 2014 the exhibits in the Lorraine Motel are closed for renovation. Don’t let this stop you from visiting though. The usual ticket price has been reduced to $10 per person and for the first time ever museum visitors are allowed access to the balcony where King was assassinated. Let me tell you it was an impactful experience to stand in the exact spot as Dr. Martin Luther King stood in the final moments of his life. The adjacent Legacy Building is open and you can easily spend 2 hours exploring all the exhibits.
Upon approaching the tunneled entrance to the Legacy Building you will notice what I thought was a sculpture. This “sculpture” actually functions as the gate to the entrance of the building and is a quote from King’s legendary “Mountaintop” speech.
Lining the tunnel walls are images from King’s funeral, images heralding the success of King’s rights movement as well as images of the continuing civil rights efforts of today.
After purchasing tickets you view a wonderful documentary entitled “The Witness” which features commentary from Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles who was a key figure in the Memphis civil rights movement and was by King’s side when he was assassinated. After viewing the documentary take the elevator to the first level of the exhibits. I enjoyed hearing the piped in recordings of the newscasts reporting on the shooting, I thought it made use of the elevator ride in an interesting way.
On this level you will move through a series of exhibits that chronicle Dr. King’s “Final Days”, the “Search of the Killer”, “Lingering Questions”, and the “Meaning of the Assassination”. The most interesting areas here for me were the re-created rooms of the young Marrow Rooming House. The items of evidence on display and the full-size replica of James Earl Ray’s Ford Mustang.
The Young Morrow Rooming House was where James Earl Ray stayed on the day of the assassination. The exhibit features a re-created living room and the bathroom where Ray was said to have fired from. The bathroom is re-created on the exact spot as the original which gives the exhibit an eerie feel. Step to a nearby window to see a similar view that the shooter had on that fateful day.
The second floor of exhibits focus on King’s movement and its ongoing impact through photos, graphics and interactive displays. There is an eight minute video dedicated to the continuing human rights movement around the world. After watching the video you emerge into the gift shop which is the final stop in the Legacy Building. From here you will walk around to the Lorraine Hotel.
The Lorraine Hotel
Once at the Lorraine Hotel you will see cars from the 60’s and an inscribed marble monument dedicated to Dr. King’s memory. The wreath hanging from the balcony in front of room 306 is the spot King was standing when he was shot. As you make your way up to the balcony you can look into some of the rooms which are displayed to look as they did in 1968. Take time to pause here in this spot and take in the surroundings. This is the most powerful moment to be experienced here and I am grateful that the museum has added this to the experience.
There were only a couple of other visitors when I was touring the facility and I feel this made the visit much more enjoyable for me. I had time to linger wherever I wanted and even revisited a couple of the exhibits to take more photos. The staff was very friendly and went out of their way to be helpful. The National Civil Rights Museum has worked hard to create a memorable experience for the visitor and a fitting tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr..
I would highly recommend the National Civil Rights Museum to anyone interested in the American civil rights movement.