Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Martin Luther King

Reposting in honour of the anniversary of MLK's assassination April 4, 1968.

Built around the former hotel where the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. occurred in 1968, the National Civil Rights Museum narrates the story of the African-American struggle for equality. Walk through the museum to explore exhibits chronicling some of the most significant moments in the country's history, including the infamous 1960s bus boycotts and sit-ins.

Other MLK posts:
Mural Rochester NY
Mural Memphis TN
Memorial Washington DC

I am warning you that this post will be photo heavy!

We stayed overnight in Memphis on our drive home this year. We've been here before so the main purpose was to visit the Martin Luther King Museum.

The story of the Lorraine Motel as written in The New Yorker.

The Lorraine Motel, located at 450 Mulberry Street, in downtown Memphis, opened its doors in the mid-twenties. It had sixteen rooms and stood just east of the Mississippi River. It was first named the Windsor Hotel, and later the Marquette Hotel. Then, in 1945, Walter and Loree Bailey bought it and named it after Loree, as well as the popular song “Sweet Lorraine,” which artists including Rudy Vallée, Teddy Wilson, and Nat King Cole had recorded. The couple expanded the hotel by adding more guest rooms and drive-up access, transforming it into a motel.

As a hotel, the Windsor and the Marquette were all-white establishments. Under the Baileys’ ownership, the Lorraine Motel became a safe haven for black travellers and visitors to Memphis. The motel was listed in “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” also known as the Green Guide, a compilation of hotels, restaurants, gas stations, beauty parlors, barber shops, and other businesses that were friendly to African-Americans during the Jim Crow era. Given the motel’s proximity to Beale Street and Stax Records, black songwriters and musicians would stay at the Lorraine while they were recording in Memphis. Negro League baseball players and the Harlem Globetrotters also spent time at the motel. The Baileys welcomed black and white guests, served home-cooked meals, and offered an upscale environment. Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Ethel Waters, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Aretha Franklin, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, and Nat King Cole were all guests. As Isaac Hayes reminisced, “We’d go down to the Lorraine Motel and we’d lay by the pool and Mr. Bailey would bring us fried chicken and we’d eat ice cream. . . . We’d just frolic until the sun goes down and [then] we’d go back to work.” Two famous songs, “In the Midnight Hour” and “Knock on Wood,” were written at the motel.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was the Lorraine Motel’s most famous guest. He stayed at the motel numerous times while visiting the city, and again in the spring of 1968, when he came to Memphis to support a strike by sanitation workers. On April 4, 1968, he stepped out of Room 306 and talked to friends in the parking lot below. He asked the saxophonist Ben Branch to play “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” at the rally that evening. As King turned to walk back into his room, a bullet struck him in the neck, taking his life instantly. Loree Bailey suffered a stroke when she heard the shot fired. She died on April 9th, the same day as King’s funeral.

Walter Bailey continued to run the motel, but he never rented Room 306 again. He turned it into a memorial. The room has been preserved to capture exactly what it looked like on that tragic night. There are two beds. (King was sharing the room with Dr. Ralph Abernathy, a friend.) King’s bed was not fully made because he was not feeling well and had been lying down. Dishes left in the room were from the kitchen where Loree Bailey prepared food for the motel’s guests.

In 1982, Walter Bailey declared bankruptcy and stood by helplessly as his high-end establishment became a brothel. The Lorraine would have been sold at auction, but the Save the Lorraine organization bought it and decided to transform it into a museum.

The motel is now the home of the National Civil Rights Museum. Filled with artifacts, films, oral histories, and interactive media, the exhibits guide visitors through five centuries of history, from slave resistance to the numerous protests of the American civil-rights movement. 

The Lorraine Motel still stands on Mulberry Street. It is instantly recognizable, and appears as though suspended in another time. Two large cars—a white 1959 Dodge Royal with lime green fins and a white 1968 Cadillac—are parked in front of the motel, and the aqua doors to the rooms are numbered with a sparse font. 

The dulcet voice of the gospel singer and civil-rights activist Mahalia Jackson fills the small corridor where visitors can gaze into Room 306. (Jackson performed “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” at his funeral).


Sculpted by Michael Pavlovsky Movement to Overcome

“The work is about the leaders of the civil rights movement,” he said. “But even more so, on a broader scale and a more accurate scale, it’s about the anonymous individuals that we know nothing about now that lived the civil rights struggle and participated in it. They are forgotten about. But the hundreds of images of human figures on that sculpture represent those anonymous individuals. That’s what makes it an epic approach to the work.”

Just try to imagine what people endured as part of the Atlantic slave trade in the late 1700s, when they were packed in ships and brought to this country as commodities, like grain or sugarcane.

Visitors may review the timeline of amendments and legislation that granted rights to African Americans, followed by the sequence of laws and Supreme Court decisions that struck down these gains and established "Separate but Equal" as the law of the land. Through historic photographs and legal text, visitors see the vibrancy of the black community despite segregation. Oral histories provide first-person accounts about life under Jim Crow.

The battle for desegregation of public schools took place on two fronts: in the courtroom and the classroom. This exhibit examines the landmark Supreme Court decision, the long legal battle and the slow pace of desegregation in public education across the country. Visitors can experience a multi-touch interactive mapping desegregation that explores how desegregation unfolded in states all over the country and also learn about historical events in their home states.


On February 1, 1960, four African American college students sat down at a lunch counter at Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, and politely asked for service. Their request was refused. When asked to leave, they remained in their seats. Their passive resistance and peaceful sit-down demand helped ignite a youth-led movement to challenge racial inequality throughout the South.

The original lunch counter is here, along with three-dimensional figures sitting in at the counter and hecklers at their side. A film is projected behind the protesters, indicating their nonviolent direct action training followed by the ensuing protests and conflicts.


The Montgomery Bus Boycott, in which African Americans refused to ride city buses in Montgomery, Alabama, to protest segregated seating, took place from December 5, 1955, to December 20, 1956, and is regarded as the first large-scale demonstration against segregation in the U.S. On December 1, 1955, four days before the boycott began, Rosa Parks, an African-American woman, refused to yield her seat to a white man on a Montgomery bus. She was arrested and fined. The boycott of public buses by blacks in Montgomery began on the day of Parks’ court hearing and lasted 381 days. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ordered Montgomery to integrate its bus system, and one of the leaders of the boycott, a young pastor named Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-68), emerged as a prominent national leader of the American civil rights movement in the wake of the action.

 In one of the museum's original exhibits, visitors can hear audio that's triggered by entering the bus. Three-dimensional figures are positioned on the sidewalk to indicate the significance of the women of Montgomery, who sustained the boycott. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is highlighted as an emerging leader of the movement, with audio of his speech delivered the first night of the boycott.

Click here to see the Rosa Parks sculpture in Grand Rapids Michigan.


The 1961 firebombing of a bus carrying 13 civil rights activists by a mob outside Anniston, Ala., became a rallying cry that brought hundreds of other black and white volunteers to the south to continue the Freedom Rides. 

Following a 1960 Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation in bus and train terminals, the Congress of Racial Equality initiated a new Freedom Ride in 1961. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee stepped in and took over the rides, sending hundreds of young people into the south. This exhibit also highlights the Kennedy administration's reluctance to step into the conflict during this Cold War period. In addition, histories of six Freedom Riders who were imprisoned in Parchman Penitentiary in Mississippi are available.


Visitors are surrounded by large murals of the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, with three-dimensional figures and signs fully immerse them within the setting. An audio excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech plays, and interactive tablets bring March participants to life with a click.


An interactive light box explains what African Americans were risking when they registered to vote: the safety of their families, their jobs and their congregations. Visitors can listen to a phone conversation as President Lyndon Johnson and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. worked together to pass the Voting Rights Act. Then, as visitors cross the Edmond Pettus Bridge, they walk into a monumental-sized screen of film on the Bloody Sunday attack on peaceful protestors. From there, visitors successfully march from Selma to Montgomery, culminating with Dr. King's delivery of the "How Long, Not Long" speech from steps of the Alabama state capitol.


On 1 February 1968, two Memphis garbage collectors, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, were crushed to death by a malfunctioning truck. Twelve days later, frustrated by the city’s response to the latest event in a long pattern of neglect and abuse of its black employees, 1,300 black men from the Memphis Department of Public Works went on strike. Sanitation workers, led by garbage-collector-turned-union-organizer, T. O. Jones, and supported by the president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Jerry Wurf, demanded recognition of their union, better safety standards, and a decent wage.

This gallery expands the story of the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike. New videos feature Rev. James Lawson and T.O. Jones, who courageously waged the battle on behalf of striking sanitation workers. The iconic strikers with the "I Am a Man" signs and the garbage truck from the original exhibition are here. Film documenting the sanitation strike is projected upon the garbage truck. New to the exhibit is the Mountaintop Theatre, showing the powerful "Mountaintop" speech, the last one Dr. King gave the evening before he died.


The Black Power exhibit shares the rise and fall of one of the most influential, yet often misunderstood, movements in the civil rights struggle. Interpretation of the Black Power movement explains it as a continuation of the Civil Rights Movement rather than a radical new movement.


April 4 began uneventfully. Dr. King and his aides spent the day at the Lorraine Motel, waiting for Reverend James Lawson and Reverend Andrew Young to return with news of whether the federal court would lift the ban on holding a sanitation workers march. The mood was light. Dr. King shared jokes and laughs with his brother, A. D. King, and the pair enjoyed a phone call with their parents. Rev. Young finally arrived around 5 o'clock. King playfully started a pillow fight with Young for not keeping him informed throughout the day. Within an hour, Reverend Samuel "Billy" Kyles arrived to take the group to dinner at his home. Unbeknownst to them, an assassin lay in wait across Mulberry Street, with a rifle ready to fire.

Across the street is the Legacy Building.

A visit to the Legacy Building (the boarding house from where the assassin's shot was allegedly fired) begins with the American Civil Rights Movement Timeline. The timeline encapsulates in chronological order the history once presented in the Lorraine exhibits up to the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On the second floor of the Legacy Building, the history continues with the investigation of the assassination, the case against James Earl Ray, and ensuing conspiracy theories. The first floor exhibits illustrate the Movement’s impact on human rights efforts globally and end with a call to action for all to continue the legacy of the American civil rights movement.

Across Mulberry Street, 283 feet away, is the boarding-house window from which James Earl Ray, a convicted bank robber who escaped from prison, is believed to have fired the fatal round. Walk around the corner to Main Street and you can stand on the pavement where the fleeing Ray, perhaps spooked by two police cars parked nearby, dropped a bundle of items — including a high-powered hunting rifle with a scope, a transistor radio with his prison inmate number scratched on it and a six-pack of Schlitz, all bearing his fingerprints — before driving off in a flashy white Mustang.

The narrow, shabby room Ray rented and the adjacent bathroom from which he fired have been restored to the condition they were in at the time of the assassination.

The view from the window across to the Lorraine Hotel. The distance between Ray's window and King's balcony is just 207 feet, an easy shot for even an average marksman.

The wooden window sill on which he steadied his rifle.


  1. ...Jackie, what a post! Such a painful and important part of American history that we just don't seem to be able to learn from. I will never understand it. Thanks for this valuable history lesson.

  2. Wow, what a powerful place. I would so love to visit it. Thanks for sharing and again thank you.

  3. The information and images about the Lorraine Motel and the fateful day just brought tears to my eyes! How very very sad! I am so happy they preserved the motel finally. As someone born in Alabama, I am always very sensitive to the amount of negative imagery re the Civil Rights Movement concerning my state. So much happened in the northern cities that is never referred to. So that's always a burr under my saddle. But I am aware of the horrible injustices suffered by blacks over time, and happy that so much good followed. I was fascinated by the wonderful presentations, particularly the sculptures, in the museum. Also, since the King family has fought hard to exonerate Ray it seems a shame that his story is still very largely a part of the narrative, especially in regards to the museum. I wish that could be corrected. Someday they may learn who the real shooter was, and I think, like the conspiracies surrounding JFK, we'd all be shocked at who was really behind it! Excellent post! So glad you shared it.

  4. A voice silenced or so they thought, whomever wanted King's voice to stop, but it hasn't. I remember hearing him on the news almost daily, and as the same with the Kennedy assassination, it is implanted in my mind where I was the day that happened. Another sad day in our history along with all that went before. We have come a long way since those years, and I pray we continue. We need to be more humane at all times and to instill that in all peoples no matter the circumstance. What a trip down memory lane this brought. Thank you for sharing.

    Peabea@Peabea Scribbles

  5. A museum is an ideal use for the building, with its history.

  6. Is there any significance of this particular garbage truck? Is it just one that happened to still exist? I want to make a model of this truck from the strike but want to make sure it's a correct truck. I'm not in the area of the museum so I can't go there and I tried to email them, but had no response. Please contact me at

  7. And can you believe it. At school we learned "all" about Hitl#r, but nothing about MLK!!! Nothing! I need to ask Ingo, but I cannot recall a thing.

    I saw the movie, Green Book, though.

    Room 306 must be... overwhelming. I sure would love to visit this place.

    Argh! The video is not shown here in Germany!
    The sculpture reminds me of one we have here, too. Maybe I should share some pics as well?

    I can not and don´t want to imagine what the people suffered through and some still do. We are so lucky and take it for granted.
    I will never understand how people can hurt each other at all.

    And it does not stop! 2 years ago, my new customer told me, she did not get an apartment because she has Turkish roots!!!! She speaks perfect German (thanks to Covid I have not met her in person yet).
    How arrogant can people be?! (She is now married to an American, which caused problems in Turkish stores in Braunschweig! SICK!)

    Did I read before in your blog about the Sit-Ins? I think so! (Not at school) -or, wait! I think there was a short docu on TV here!
    Do you know the book "Black like me"? A "white" man on the journey to find out how it is like. It was in the 60´s in the South.

    The second video is "free" for Germany.
    Sad the dream still has not really come true. I wonder how and why, also seeing how us "white" people / women are treated by refugee-men from Afghanistan & Co. And yes, and "Co".
    I can talk to American African sports guys just like that, but the Muslim men... repeats history into the other direction. Just yet again.

    Oh, what a sad story about the garbage men and how strong the people were to stand up.
    These days "we" sit on our butts and let politicians do their sad work...

    And yes. "I am a man"!!!! We are just material these days.
    Ingo lost two co-workers, out of four they are two and yet the same work is expected.

    Thank you for this history lesson.
    I have (had?) a blog post about all you who share the history we should´ve learned at school. I hope you don´t mind I want to share this post for that?
    Not tomorrow, but when I made my mind up.

    This was very interesting, thank you.

  8. A brilliant post, especially for those of us without direct knowledge of the period in a far away land. I found it a struggle to get past knowing that The Negro Motorist Green Book was necessary.

  9. The movement was so important and I think I probably would've been a part of it back then.

  10. Jackie thank you for this. I recently watched a doc on MLK so this was even more interesting, as I never could understand how he was shot as the place looked so protected. Your post is far more detailed and extensive in coverage. Will the truth ever be known about this assassination, he was a right pain in the arse to the FBI who tracked him 24/7 breaking so many laws. I believe it's 2027 before all the papers are released. All the perps being dead, of course.


    1. Thank you WWW for your too kind words! Glad he was a pain to the FBI!

  11. What an incredible post. I have many black friends and I want to apologize to them every time I see something like the slaves coming to America. We just don't seem to learn from the past. I keep reminding people that it won't be long until we "whites" or Caucasians will soon be in the minority in this country.

  12. Good idea to re-post this.
    Must´ve been last year, I saw a beautiful ("white") blonde on such a garbage-truck here and next time a very sexy "white" guy.
    Thankfully times have changed - we exchangend smiles.

  13. Well done. We sure still have things to work on, when it comes to human rights. Maybe I don't see it. But it seem like Canada don't have human right issue. As we do in the United States.
    Coffee is on and stay safe

  14. I had totally forgotten it was MLK Day on Monday. I still find down in the Southern States a lot of racial issues, there is still work to be done there.


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