In December 2015 my wife and I visited Memphis and we were able to tour the National Civil Rights Museum, housed at the Lorraine Motel, where King was gunned down on April 4, 1968.
Just a few thoughts and then I will share some of the exterior photos I took. The admission charge of $15, while seemingly high, isn’t that unreasonable. This is not a state or federally operated museum. According to their website, the state owns the property and the museum is operated by a 501 (c)(3) not for profit organization. This is where I take issue with the naming of the museum. The name implies a governmental endorsement but that does not appear to be the case. In addition, with the modern emphasis on Civil Rights for all people, the naming of the museum should more reflect the goal of the museum, which is the education of visitors about the Civil Rights struggles for African-Americans.
As a final aside, we found the employees and volunteers to be standoffish and unhelpful. They were more interested in getting a tour group through rather than assisting those of us, and there were several, who were paying. The security checkpoint seemed overdone and the employee working it came off as dictatorial and rude. Those working in the gift shop were more interested in talking and socializing with each other and we left without making a purchase. As a museum junkie, that is something that seldom, if ever, happens.
On to the positives, and the museum itself is a positive. This is a wonderful place. The exhibits are well done, interesting, and this is overall truly a gem of a museum; a true must see for those interested in American history. One can not tour this facility without feeling a deep respect for what these men and women, young and old, black and white, went through in order to achieve what seems like such a basic thing to us today.
Must visit attractions include the Montgomery Bus Boycott exhibit, including a sculpture of Rosa Parks seated on a bus. We Are Prepared to Die: The Freedom Rides 1961 is a truly moving experience, bringing to life the horrors that were perpetrated upon those looking to secure the most basic of rights and freedoms. The Freedom Rides encountered violence on a scale I find unimaginable, having not lived through this era.
The true highlight of the visit however are seeing Dr. King’s room and the area from which James Earl Ray fired the shot that killed Dr. King. The room Dr. King was staying at was a basic room, nothing fancy. Room 306 is set up as it was the fateful date when Dr. King stepped out onto the balcony, thus meeting an assassin’s bullet. A visit to the Legacy Building is a must do as well. This allows you to see where Ray was staying and the vantage point he had when he fired his shot. In addition, there is a very interesting display covering the conspiracy theories associated with King’s killing. It is unfathomable that it took two months before Ray was captured in England after attempting to use a fake passport.
This is a well done museum that is worth a visit by anybody interested in American history. It covers an important subject, one which we should never forget. Some training of staff in basic customer service skills would go a long way toward making this a more enjoyable destination.