As soon as I got out of the car in the parking lot, all I could think about was the iconic picture of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lying on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel surrounded by his aides pointing at the building across the street. If you haven’t seen it, you need to, and you can HERE. The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN memorializes that sacred spot and takes you on a journey through history so you fully understand what led to that tragic day.
Your visit begins with the slave trade in the 1600s. From there, you watch a short video that outlines the experience of African Americans and the struggles that have been faced though history. Walk through the Civil War, Jim Crow and “Separate but Equal”. This background gives a great foundation to understand what prompted the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. If you would like to get a better idea of what you will see, the museum has a great virtual walk through, but it doesn’t compare to actually going.
I walked into a room along with a group of teens that had a bus from the same fleet as the one Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on and several said “What’s with the bus?”. I spent several minutes explaining the significance and sharing stories from my history classes and from my parents who grew up in the 1960s. This museum is such an important place and I think everyone should visit at some point. Use it to explore and explain what happened only 5o years ago so it doesn’t happen again.
After you explore the exhibits, walk past the balcony where MLK fell in 1968. You can still see the blood stain on the concrete. Go across the street and see the window where James Earl Ray stood and took his fatal shot.
So, here is my advice (which I don’t think I’ve ever said about any place we’ve visited): GO. Take your children when they are old enough to understand. And be prepared to answer questions. I have been to lots of museums and historical sites and typically I take pictures throughout to share here. However, photos won’t do this museum justice. I put away my camera and focused on the experience. I hope you do the same. Make sure you have at least 2 hours to visit, but you could easily spend 3. There is a lot of information to read and the displays are eye opening. As I’m sure you know, American history is bloody, and that is conveyed but there was nothing graphic that I wouldn’t want my children to see.
And when you leave, go across the street to Central BBQ for a taste of Memphis.
If you go….
Hours: Closed on Tuesdays
Open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday & Saturday 9 AM to 5 PM
Sundays 1 to 5 PM.
During the summer (Memorial Day to Labor Day) the museum is open an extra hour until 6 PM.
$14/Students with ID and Seniors
$12/Children (ages 4 – 17)
Children ages 3 and Under FREE
If you are a TN resident, bring your ID and get free entry on Mondays after 3 PM