My hometown of Memphis, Tennessee has some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet, and (in my opinion) the very best pork barbecue you’ll ever taste. Memphis is famous for music from Beale Street to Sun Studios to Stax Records.
Unfortunately, it’s infamous for some things, too.
On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed by an assassin’s bullet while speaking from a balcony at the Lorraine Motel in downtown Memphis. Earlier that day, at the Mason Temple, he had given his legendary “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. He was in town to support African American sanitation workers, who were on strike for equal wages and improvement of deplorable working conditions. A week earlier Dr. King had walked with the sanitation workers in the iconic “I Am a Man” civil rights march to the steps of Memphis City Hall.
About three weeks after Dr. King’s death and after protests in cities across the country, the city settled the sanitation workers’ strike, raising wages and recognizing their union. Today the Lorraine Motel is part of a complex housing the National Civil Rights Museum, which also owns a building across the street, a former boarding house from which James Earl Ray fired the fatal shot. An affiliate Smithsonian museum, the National Civil Rights Museum highlights the human rights struggles of African Americans from early slavery rebellions, through Reconstruction and mid-century civil rights protests, up to present times.
If you travel to Memphis to tour Graceland and Sun Studios or to eat some world-class barbecue, I sincerely hope you’ll also tour the National Civil Rights Museum. Permanent exhibits include the Montgomery (Alabama) bus boycott. You can enter a bus and listen to an audio narrative was you sit near a figure of Rosa Parks. There’s also an exhibit about the sanitation workers’ strike and a video of the “Mountaintop” speech given the day of Dr. King’s death. There are many special exhibits and events, as well. (The National Civil Rights Museum is currently closed due to COVID-19, but will reopen when it is safe to do so.)