The National Civil Rights Museum

January 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

We visited the National Civil Rights Museum the weekend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, birthday. The museum is in downtown Memphis, where Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

The museum incorporates the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. King was lodging, and the boarding house across the street, from which the killer fired the fatal shot.IMG_2726

Dr. King had come to Memphis in support of a strike by Memphis garbage workers for better pay. He and his cohort, Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, checked in at the Lorraine in adjoining rooms. The motel was their customary lodging whenever they were in the city. They stayed at the Lorraine so frequently that motel staff and the guests jokingly referred to their rooms as the “King-Abernathy Suite.” Dr. King was staying in Room 306. At around 6:00, p.m., he was standing on the second-floor balcony, chatting about plans for supper with some friends in the parking lot below, when the rifle shot took his life.IMG_2724

People were not as security conscious in 1968 as they are now. Police were posted nearby, but they were there primarily to keep away anyone who approached on foot or by automobile. No one gave any thought to securing the shabby boarding house across the street. The killer, James Earl Ray, shot Dr. King using a .30-06 rifle with scope. He shot from the small, upper-right window in the building with the white door, about 100 yards from his target.IMG_2734

Ray had to stand in a bathtub in his boarding house bathroom, resting his rifle on a widow sill, to fire at his target. You can see the motel through the window. For a rifleman with a scope, the shot was not challenging.IMG_2729

Much of the museum is closed now for refurbishing, so most of the exhibits one sees now focus on Dr. King’s assassination. When the museum is fully open, however, it offers exhibits interpreting the entire scope of the civil rights movement. Visitors during the renovation are able to access the balcony, which includes a look into Dr. King’s room as it was the evening of the assassination.IMG_2735

Exhibits … The first picture below depicts the exhibit showing the rifle used by the murderer, his jacket, a box of ammunition, and some other items discovered in the investigation that linked him to the crime.IMG_2730

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The story of Ray’s stalking and murder of Dr. King, and his subsequent international pursuit and arrest by the FBI, are captured in riveting detail in Hampton Sides’ book, Hellhound on his Trail, which I posted about here.IMG_2723

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