Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Have you ever cried at a museum before? If you visit the National Civil Rights Museum you just might.

 Almost 44 years ago, a man named Martin Luther King Jr. was shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in downtown Memphis, less than a mile from where I'm sitting at the Orpheum right now. Today, his memory is kept alive in the amazing institution that is the Civil Rights Museum, which includes the Lorraine Motel and several adjoining building.  I had been to the museum many years earlier for a school field trip, but had almost no memory of it. I figured, what better time to revisit than so close King's birthday?

I went to the museum over the weekend (with my trusty Passport, of course) and was completely blown away by the exhibits. It's a shame photography isn't allowed inside the museum, because words really can't do justice to how moving and well done they are. Photos, printed ephemera, personal letters, and posters are blown up to larger-than-life sizes and collaged together to create a giant timeline, flowing across several intimate rooms. The timeline is punctuated by special exhibits including a reproduction of the bus Rosa Parks sat on, a video wall showing the violence of the Birmingham riots, and a set up of King's "I Have A Dream" speech complete with protestors holding signs. Although I had read many of the stories of the Civil Rights Movement in history class, hearing their voices and seeing the exhibits about lesser-known players was a completely different, much more emotional experience (James Meredith's story in particular made me tear up).

The end of the museum is dedicated to King, his work, and the events that led up to his death. Across the street there is another exhibit exclusively about James Earl Ray and the investigation that eventually brought him to justice (although the exhibit also details the many loose ends that cast doubt on this neat ending).  I left the museum with a much better understanding of King's impact on our city, and his struggles that we continue to face even now.

The Civil Rights Museum is open Monday, Wednesday -Saturday  9 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. Admission for adults is $13, but with your passport you can buy one get one free. I would definitely recommend ponying up the extra $2 for the audio tour, it's worth every penny.

The National Civil Rights Museum
450 Mulberry Street  Memphis, TN 38103-4214
(901) 521-9699

1 comment:

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