It was a Thursday evening on April 4th, 1968, that one of the greatest revolutionary leaders of the civil rights movement spent his final hours. Martin Luther King, Jr. was standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis when he was fatally wounded by a shot fired by a man named James Early Ray.
While Ray would live out the rest of his days in prison before eventually dying behind bars, King's message was eternal and immortal. His last stand on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, just outside of Room 306, would soon be protected and turned into a full civil rights museum. When visiting Memphis, this is one stop that should not be missed on the list of Tennessee museums.
The Lorraine Motel & Its Historic Status
The Lorrain Motel is located at 450 Mulberry Street, and if one didn't know any better, they would presume it was just like any other hotel on the side of the road in Memphis. However, it now stands as a protected site and one that's just as historically significant as any other with registered landmark status. Today, one would never guess that the final moments of a courageous and steadfast civil rights leader, Baptist minister, and activist took place in this same spot. Despite his life taken out of anger and hatred, Martin Luther King, Jr. continued to stand for the rights of all black Americans, becoming not only a symbol for the black community but for civil and human rights around the entire world.
Drawing inspiration from his own Christian roots and beliefs as well as the nonviolent human rights movement led by Mahatma Gandhi, he was able to organize some of the largest and most effective civil rights protests and marches that were seen in American until that time. In 1964, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and is known most famously for his 'I Have A Dream' speech, inspiring many on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
The Lorraine Motel was the last place that MLK stood on that tragic day in history, and it took decades before it finally became a protected piece of property. The last year that it was in operation was 1982 and, luckily, it had still maintained much of its 1960s charm and aesthetic, driving home, even more, the atmosphere that surrounded MLK on his final day. It was closed for good to guests and renters in 1988 when it gained historical recognition. By 1991, the motel had become a dedicated museum and continued to grow to include and full museum of exhibits, known as the National Civil Rights Museum.
Outside of the Lorraine Motel, there is an inscription that reads:
"Martin Luther King, Jr. / Jan. 15th - Apr. 4th 1968 / Founding President / Southern Christian Leadership Conference
'They said to one another,
Behold, here cometh the dreamer...
Let us sly him...
And we shall see what will become of his dreams.'"
Genesis 37 19-20
Visiting The National Civil Rights Museum
The museum opened its doors in September of 1991 and is officially owned by the state of Tennessee, but is operated by the Lorraine Civil Rights Museum Foundation. Found on the sign indicating the motel, visitors will be greeted with the words 'I have a dream,' echoing the start of one of the most important, and significant, speeches ever given in America.
When entering the Lorraine Building of the museum, visitors will find more than 40 short films, oral histories, and interactive exhibits. The tour is self-guided and there are many artifacts on display from the Civil Rights Movement, along with the actual room - room 306 - in which MLK spent his final days. Although the museum has been updated, the exhibits brilliantly draw connections between the Civil Rights Movement six decades ago, and the current events of today.
On average, a visit to. the National Civil Rights Museum lasts roughly an hour and a half and the museum advises booking tickets in advance. Those visiting within the last hour of the museum's hours of operation may experience a shortened self-guided tour. For the time being, any interpretive talks are being held in the courtyard space outside of the museum.
- Admission: Adults $18 | Seniors 55+ & college students with ID $16 | Children aged 5 - 17 $15 | Children under age 4, military, and museum members - Free
- Hours: Thursday - Monday 9 AM - 5 PM, Closed Tuesdays & Wednesdays
- Tickets: Visitors are advised to purchase tickets in advance; however, timed tickets are only sold online. Check-in is 15 minutes prior to one's ticket time, and the last ticket is sold at 4:15 PM. Those purchasing tickets in person should be aware that they are sold based on availability, or can be sold on a standby basis.