National Civil Rights Museum

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King had a Dream; the Dream Lives on.....

Aug 5, 2004 (Updated Aug 23, 2004)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Wonderful historical documents; well done interactive displays

Cons:none

The Bottom Line: One of the great historical museums. This is a must see in my opinion.


It was news to me that there was a National Civil Rights Museum in Nashville but having lived through that era and believing the world would be a far better place had John, Martin and Bobby not been assassinated, I was anxious to go.

Information :

The National Civil Rights Museum chronicles the civil and human rights movement from 1968 to 2000 including past injustices to the African American people

It is located at 450 Mulberry Street, Memphis, Tennessee. It can be reached at 901-521-9699. Admission prices are $10.00 for adults, $8.00 for students; $6.50 for children 4-17; and children under 3 are free. There is a free period Mondays after 3:00PM.

The hours are daily except Tuesdays (However during February, the Museum is open on Tuesdays) from 9:00AM-5:00PM; Sundays 1:00PM-5:00PM; and from June 1 – August 31 it is open until 6:00PM. The AAA book says to give yourself 1 hours to see this Museum. My advice is to give yourself twice that much. We spent 3 hours in the Civil Rights Museum.

You cannot bring in a camera or backpack and will be asked to check these items as you walk in.

There is a free parking lot next door. On this Wednesday in early June, there were a few people in the Museum but not many.

You can use a free audio tour if you want. I found the audio tour to be quite helpful because there is so much to see and read. I found that with the audio tour I could look and read something not on the audio and listen to the audio at the same time.

Some history:

I had no idea that the Museum is part of Lorraine Motel. That name may not mean anything to many but this is where Martin Luther King, JR. was killed. Dr. King was co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Council and acknowledged leader of the Civil Rights Movement. He received his PhD in religion from Boston University. After his death this small minority-owned motel declined to a point that it was foreclosed in 1982. A group of prominent Memphians formed the Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation to save Lorraine Motel. In September, 1991 the National Civil Rights Museum opened.

As I approached the building I saw a wreath on the balcony where MLK was standing. Later in this tour I found out more about this particular spot.

We started with a video that shows how the American Civil Rights Movement has prompted human rights movements throughout the world. We saw and heard compelling and inspiring pictures and words that prompt us to act and challenge injustice and discrimination. It was excellent and I would highly recommend you stop and watch this 15 minute video.

Short summary:

During the first few minutes of the tour I thought all I would be doing would be reading historical facts. That changed and along with reading came many video clips and amazing displays. Clips of course are of his “I Have a Dream” speech but many others are of Martin Luther King being arrested, clips of other speeches he has given and clips of impromptu get togethers with others in the civil rights movement. You’ll see a video of Malcolm X who was also assassinated and learn the differences between the two men’s philosophies. MLK was non-violent; Malcolm X believed violence might be necessary. It is essential if you are younger than a baby boomer and do not know the history of the Civil Rights Movement to read about it in this Museum. Learn when people of color got the right to vote; learn about desegregation and just how recently this was; learn about slavery. Martin Luther King’s “fight” and dream will be made more real and you will be able to understand just how important Reverend Martin Luther King, JR. really was.

Specifics:

Some of the highlights included a Montgomery city bus in which we stepped. There sat a fantastic looking replica of Rosa Parks in 1955. Up until Rosa Parks’ protest in which she sat up front on this bus and did not give up her seat to a white person, people of color had to sit in the back and give up there seats to white people. As we sat in the bus a person came over the loud speaker. We heard “Give up your seat.” “Didn’t you hear me? Someone wants to sit down.” “Move to the back of the bus.” This was really the first of the demonstrations which introduced the nation to the 26- year old Martin Luther King JR’s leadership.

We also saw other peaceful protests such as a “white only” lunch counter where a few black people along with white sympathizers sat. This was really well done as well. I felt like I was there in that store with them. As you see these real life displays you will also read placards, see pictures, posters and artifacts that go along with the display.

You will read about the March on Washington which was meant to bring attention to the gap between Whites and African Americans. Thousands gathered to hear many speeches. The most famous one took place here – I Have a Dream – by Dr. Martin Luther King.

Another fantastic display which we not only saw but read about and saw on video clips was the trash collector’s strike. Trash collectors were primarily black and paid very little. You’ll see a truck with a mess of trash spilled out of it and into the street. You’ll see a line of marchers and hear news coverage of the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers strike.

You’ll learn about desegregation of the schools and learn that in 1955 Chief Justice Earl Warren demanded that school segregation end. A large picture showing the courthouse and the men who made desegregation happen (Thurgood Marshall and Charles Houston from the NAACP, one of many organizations that were established as a result of widespread racism, are shown). You’ll read and hear as participants tell of their experience of going into a newly desegregated school. There is the actual film in front of Central High School where there was a confrontation over the rights of nine black students to enroll.

You’ll see a Greyhound bus. This represents the ride in 1961 of 7 black and 6 white people who joined together to protest illegal segregation on buses and trains.

You will be able to walk across a replica of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. This bridge was part of the march that would be known as “Bloody Sunday” This was the Civil Rights Movement’s last big public protest. Six hundred marchers were tear-gassed and beaten as they marched peacefully. This however influenced President Johnson’s ratification of the Voting Act of 1965. (Think about this – only 40 years ago black people could not vote!)

You’ll be able to spin a large wheel and as it stops there is a reason given as to why black people couldn’t register. Although they were legally allowed to vote, perhaps they were told they needed to show a license or a high school diploma or reasons that were just plain not true.

We are taken from these peaceful protests to the more violent ones of Malcolm X and the group that would be known as the Black Panthers.

We saw Room 307 That was the room in Lorraine Motel which had been the motel room for Dr. Martin Luther King JR. in 1966. On April 3, 1968 he checked into Room 306. You’ll see an exhibit behind Plexiglas of that room as it was on April 4, 1968, the day of his assassination.

From here we walked across the street. This was the Young/Morrow Boarding House where witnesses say the shot came from. We saw the actual bathroom where the shot was said to have taken place! Although enclosed by Plexiglas next to it is a window where we could get a perspective of just how easy a target MLK had been. It was chill-provoking to realize we were standing in the spot or very close to the exact spot that the shot that changed the world came from.

You’ll read how and why James Earl Ray was arrested for the crime. You’ll see a replica of the 1966 Mustang that James Earl Ray was driving. This building holds amazing material. It essentially shows the investigative materials and the trial evidence that was never presented from the State of Tennessee. You’ll watch a video presentation of the case against James Earl Ray. He died in prison in 1998 while serving a 99-year sentence.

Quite interesting were the timelines and placards questioning why Martin Luther King was killed, how one person could have planned the killing, some evidence that more than one person was involved and of course the conspiracy theory.

The last words I read will stick with me forever. They defined the word assassination. They talked about assassinations being much worse than murder. Assassinations are of leaders. Martin Luther King was assassinated and that shot really did change the world.

We went back to the original Museum to get our camera and shop in the beautiful book store. You’ll find fantastic books, wonderful T-shirts at reasonable prices (I bought one for $11.99.) and souvenirs- magnets for example.

My final thoughts:

I hope I have given you a glimpse into this amazing Museum. I can’t give you the emotions it provoked in me over cyberspace. I can highly recommend that you make the National Civil Rights Museum a destination. There is so much in this Museum I can’t tell you about both because I can’t remember it all and because it would take pages. If you’ve been I would love to know your thoughts on the Museum.

Some material that I couldn’t possibly have remembered came from the Museum brochure.

I am chronicling our 3-month cross country trip. If you would like to follow it, the reviews are below.


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Recommend this product? Yes


Best Time to Travel Here: Anytime

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