MLK and the Lorraine Motel

Photo:GV
Photo:GV

More than 600,000 people visit Memphis each year to see Graceland. I have no idea how many visit the Lorraine Motel while they’re there, as I did, but I can assure you that it is well worth it. It’s just a few blocks south of Beale Street, which in turn is just south of the grand old upscale hotel of Memphis, The Peabody.

Anything but upscale, the Lorraine was one of those rare Memphis lodgings that would welcome blacks 40 years ago.

The Lorraine Motel is the site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1968.

It is also home to the “National Civil Rights Museum.” 

Photo: GV
Photo: GV
The Lorraine weaves together two powerful stories.
One is of the assasination itself, which is immediately evoked from the exterior, by the balcony of room #306, now still as it was in April 1968. This view immediately brings to mind the dramatic photo taken just moments after King was shot on that very spot: his entourage frantically pointing toward the rooming house across the street from which the shot came – the victim is at their feet.
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The Lorraine Motel has been turned into the National Civil Right Museum. The story line begins more than a century before 1968, but as visitors progress along the path of America’s civil rights movement, they progress as well along the path leading to room #306. Gradually, historical time converges with real time and real place, as visitors follow in increasingly rich and poignant detail the story of the struggle – and specifically, of Martin Luther Kings’ role in that struggle – as it leads up to and into the room, and then out on to the balcony where he died.

This is a museum that teaches in the best possible way, and,  at the same time, it is a museum that leaves its visitors powerfully moved.

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