The Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee

On a very recent trip to Memphis, Tennessee, we did what most tourists do.  We joined the flocks of visitors to Graceland the home of Elvis Presley, we meandered to Beale Street where one is in the heart of the country’s live Blues scene.  Sun Studios, the birth place of Rock N’ Roll, is definitely a must-see, it is a small museum but holds a lot of music history.  The Soul and Rock n’ Roll museum is also very interesting.  However, what remained most poignant in my memory, was The Lorraine Motel that is part of the complex of The National Civil Rights Museum.   On my return home, I became curious about that era of American history and proceeded to research more about this great man and the iconic motel.  I’ll show you the photos and the history of that era which the museum covered.

Built in 1925, the Lorraine Hotel was a typical Southern hotel accessible only to whites in its early history. However, by the end of World War II, the Lorraine had become a black establishment which had among its early guests Cab Calloway, Count Basie, and other prominent jazz musicians, in addition to later celebrities such as Roy Campanella, Nat King Cole, and Aretha Franklin. Partly because of its historical importance to the black community of Memphis, Martin Luther King chose to stay at the Lorraine during the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike.

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First open in 1991 with a focus on education of the history of the American civil rights movement, the updated museum design now includes large-format exhibits, more film and interactive media. On April 4th 1968, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on the balcony of the motel.  Room 306 where he stayed the night before is now a shrine to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  There are very few places where time has literally stopped.  It was an eerie feeling, so many thoughts went through my mind here.

Two 1960’s cadillacs are still parked outside the motel just below the balcony where Dr. Martin Luther King was shot.

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Directly across the street, is the boarding house from where James Earl Ray fired the fatal shots. You can see the bathroom from where he fired the shots. I wish we had spent more time in both these buildings reading the conspiracy theories surrounding Ray’s ultimate capture and a lot of history that opened my eyes and left me wondering “why”?  Here was a man who preached non-violence, who fought for the rights of black people, and whose “I have a Dream” speech still rings loud and clear.

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The bathroom where the shot was fired from. Notice the window slightly raised.

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A view of the motel from the boarding house where James Earl Ray lived.

Also in the museum is a section dedicated to Rosa Parks and the bus boycott.  One day in December 1955, Mrs. Rosa Parks boarded a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. She was tired from a busy day at work. She was tired of sitting in the back of the bus. But mostly, she was tired of the wrongness of things. It didn’t make any sense. It had never made any sense.

There was a law in Alabama that required persons of color to ride in the back of the bus and to give up their seat to a white person if the bus was crowded. Why should she have to sit in the back? Why should she have to give up her seat just because she was colored? This led to a year long struggle when the Supreme Court’s ruling eventually declared this illegal.

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Here’s yours truly in solidarity with Rosa Parks on the bus.

Here’s a compilation of photos taken in Memphis, which illustrate the music and happenings during that era.

45 comments

  1. Loretta what a wonderful and fascinating trip. Gives me chills just thinking about the Lorraine what an experience to be there and also to see where the shots were fired from. I would love to visist Graceland one day and the museum. Love the photo’s.

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    1. Thanks Suzanne, it was the most surreal experience I’ll have to say. You go through the museum and read all about different events and experiences during that time, and it ends when you see the actual room where he spent his last night. Graceland was nice too, but I think Sun Studios was even better, albeit small. It is where Elvis first walked in to try out. So many other stars became famous there too.

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  2. Loretta, You have outdone yourself with this amazing post! Your photographs and vivid description has not only educated me but I also want to go visit and see the Lorraine and the museum.
    Thank you!

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    1. Thanks Sandhya, it was a long birthing process :)). It always takes me so long to get back on the blogging track when I’ve been absent for a while. I’ve got a few other ones on travel, but I think this one was a poignant memory for me. Thanks for your kind words always. 🙂

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      1. It does take time to get back plus you must have the jet lag too. Looking forward to more of your travel and food posts!

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  3. Our son taught 7th grade in Memphis for a year and we visited him twice. Memphis has a lot to offer but the Lorraine Hotel/Civil Rights Museum was such a powerful experience. In the gift shop I bought a book called “Going Down Jericho Road” by Michael Honey that talks about King and the sanitation strike. There was an enormous FBI presence around the Lorraine when King was shot – it’s just that they were all waiting for some kind of violence from the civil rights leaders. There was no concern about threats to King. The book also brings out how King was deeply concerned with economic inequality – I wish we still had his voice today.

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    1. So great to hear that you had the same experience I did. I would love to go back and take in more, there was just so much to see, and I thought it was so well illustrated. I’ll have to look for that book when I go to the library later this morning. Thanks so much for giving me additional insights to King’s memory. Indeed I wish his voice was still around today.

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  4. Sounds like you had a meaningful and memorable trip, Loretta. So much history coming out Memphis, Tennessee. Both MLK and Rosa Parks are important and towering figures in the history of African American civil rights movement and their stories continue to be relevant today. I enjoyed reading your post! 🙂

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    1. Thanks Angie, I’m sure as an educator you’ve passed on some of these important dates and figures to your students as well. I thought the museum/motel was so well entwined, I could have spent the better part of the day just soaking it all in. I came out refreshed, learning much more than I claimed I knew.

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  5. Thanks for the history lesson and all of the great pictures, including one of you 🙂 I will have to keep this in mind the next time I go that way to visit a sister in her Mississippi home. She also has two homes in Florida! Love those old cars – I use to date a guy back in high school and he had a convertible that had similar “wings” but not so extreme – can’t remember the type of car. Of course Rosa Parks is from the Detroit area and the last I heard they were fighting over her estate!!!

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    1. Thanks Judi, I appreciate you giving us some of your input to the post. I didn’t realize Rosa Parks was from Detroit. You’ll have to make a trip to see this very important landmark the next time you visit your sister. We actually wanted to take a detour and check out the birth home of Elvis in Tupelo, MS. Just so much to see in Memphis, so little time. Yes, don’t you just love those cars?

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      1. Be sure to drive the Natchez Trace which starts in Nashville and ends in Natchez, Ms. You go right by Tupelo and it is definitely worth it. The two lane historical road is beautiful (Nat’l. Park Service) and is a pleasure to drive. Otherwise I go through Memphis to get to Clinton.

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      2. Actually Judi, we did drive on that beautiful Natchez Trace from Nashville, it was just gorgeous. We were with friends visiting from the UK, he wanted to stop at a battlefield along the way, so we did drive through some gorgeous areas on the way.

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  6. Reading your post makes me realize that 2 world famous non-violence advocates were killed with violence which is very sad indeed. Thank You for sharing such a detailed post. And you are looking good 🙂

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    1. Aww, thanks Nandini, very sweet of you. There’s just so much to learn from them isn’t there? It’s a pity their voices are not around these days. Thanks for adding your comments to this post. It’s interesting to hear and read what other folks have to say. It looks like my cooking part of the blog maybe taking a back seat for a while, but then again, I have a lot of good ideas now that the cooler weather is here.

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  7. This poignant setting frozen in time is a chilling reminder of that painful part of the history of this country Loretta. I had no idea they had preserved the motel, the boarding house, the cars and the Rosa Parks bus. Thank you for documenting and sharing this trip with us. I will add Memphis to my bucket list.

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    1. Yes, I did see that you found this post Johanne, so happy that you did. My posts are acting up on your Reader eh? 🙂 You’ve summarized the first few sentences very well. The cars and the bus are replicas I was told, but the actual room where MLK spent his last night is viewed by all as you exit the building – it was pretty surreal!

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    1. Thanks Liz, you will definitely have to make a trip to Memphis, there is just so much to see. Of course the music scene there is just sensational! Another great place to visit is Sun Studios in Memphis, it was the birthplace of Rock n’ Roll. However, this particular museum just left an indelible mark.

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  8. Loretta, I was a young woman living in West Tennessee, just north of Memphis when Dr. King was murdered. I will never, ever, forget that day and it still just breaks my heart. So much sadness around that time and so many lives lost. The preservation of the Lorraine is a reminder to those who never knew and to those who cannot forget. Thanks so much for sharing.

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    1. Oh gosh Teresa, thanks so much for stopping by and letting all the readers know about this. What a time in your life this must have been. I myself was not in America when this all happened, I believe I was in Kenya and even then I do believe I remembered. I was so taken away with the preservation of the Lorraine, it just blew me away, it was all so wonderfully put together. I feel like I’d love to go back again to take in parts that I may have missed. What a great memory this was for you. I truly appreciate your contribution, as will others who will read this post. Thank you so much.

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  9. This was such an interesting post, Loretta! I didn’t know about this museum and am glad you brought it to my attention. I completely understand your reaction to all of it being “why?” I have the same feeling. So very sad! It is great that they honor Rosa Parks here, too. I love the picture of you on the bus! Thanks so much for sharing about your trip and the museum.

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    1. Truly I was not aware of this either Shari – what I also didn’t realize was how well they entwined both the museum and the hotel. Just so much to see and learn during the trip, it is just mind-blowing. Thanks for stopping by and giving us your comments. x

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    1. Aww, that’s real nice of you to stop by again and remember this special day with me. Thanks Julie, it really makes you stop and wonder eh? Can’t wait to see your cake post, I’ve been dreaming about it all day 🙂

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