The last day of our tour was packed with an emotional wallop. We visited the National Civil Rights Museum at The Lorraine Motel in Memphis. This was the site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968. To say that this exhibition was powerful would be an understatement. Never before have I been moved to tears by a museum exhibit.
No photography is allowed inside the museum; I will do my best to bring these images to life for you. The permanent exhibit chronicles the American civil rights movement over 400 years - from the early slave revolts to the present day recipients of National and International Freedom Awards.
There are quotes - from Frederick Douglass in 1852, "If there is no struggle, there is no progress," to President Bill Clinton, "Though we march to the music of our time, our mission is timeless."
You can learn how the NAACP was founded in 1910, and how the landmark decision in Brown v. The Board of Education in 1954 ended legalized segregation.
You can sit on a bus next to Mrs. Rosa Parks and understand more about the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955; or you can sit at the Woolworth's lunch counter with several African American college students, who staged a sit-in protest after being denied service in 1960 in Greensboro North Carolina.
**Chicago connection: There is a section on the aftermath of the brutal murder of 14 year old Emmett Till in 1954. There is a section on Dr. King's work in Chicago during the mid 1960's, addressing racial problems in the urban north, and the beginnings of the Poor People's Campaign.
Undoubtedly, the most compelling part of the exhibit is about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His powerful "I Have a Dream" speech has even more meaning in this setting. You feel the emotion from the marches, the protests, and a replica of a jail cell where Dr. King wrote The Letter from Birmingham Jail on the only means available - tissue paper.
As you make your way to the end of the exhibit you find yourself in a time warp, staring at rooms 306 and 307, just as they were in 1968. Dr. King was standing on the balcony of room 306 when he was assassinated. The building accross the street was an old boarding house; it is now an expansion of the museum. Inside you can see the bedroom used by James Earl Ray, and the bathroom where the fatal shot was fired. The bathroom window is left open several inches, just as it was when police found it in April 1968. Chilling.
Several days after Dr. King's death, a wreath was placed on the railing in front of room 306. One has been there ever since.