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