National Civil Rights Museum
The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, USA, is a privately-owned complex of museums and historic buildings built around the former Lorraine Motel at 450 Mulberry Street, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Major components of the complex on 4.14 acres include a museum which traces the history of the Civil Rights Movement from the 1600s to the present, the Lorraine Motel and hotel buildings as well as the Young and Morrow Building at 422 Main Street on the west side of Mulberry up a small hill across the street from the motel which was the site where James Earl Ray initially confessed (and later recanted) to shooting King from a second story bathroom window as well as the Canipe’s Amusement Store at 418 Main Street next door to the rooming house where the alleged murder weapon with Ray's fingerprints was found. Included on the grounds is the brushy lot that stood between the rooming house and the motel where a differing theory says the fatal shot came from a different weapon at ground level in a conspiracy involving Loyd Jowers who operated Jim's Grill which opened onto the lot. The complex is owned by the nonprofit Lorraine Civil Rights Museum Foundation. It is located on the south edge of Downtown Memphis, Tennessee in what is now called the South Main Arts District and is about six blocks east of the Mississippi River.

The first hotel on the site was the 16 room Windsor Hotel built on the northern side of the complex around 1925 which was renamed the Marquette Hotel. Walter Bailey purchased it in 1945 and renamed it for his wife Loree and the song Sweet Lorraine. During segregation it was an upscale accommodation that catered to a black clientele. He added a second floor and then drive up access for more rooms on the south side of the complex converting the name from Lorraine Hotel to Lorraine Motel. Its guests included musicians going to Stax Records including Ray Charles, Lionel Hampton, Aretha Franklin, Ethel Waters, Otis Redding, The Staple Singers and Wilson Pickett. Following the assassination of King, Bailey left Room 306 outside of which King was assassinated and the adjoining room 307 unoccupied as a memorial to King. Bailey's wife Loree, who suffered a stroke hours after the assassination, died five days later. He converted the other motel rooms to single room occupancy. Bailey worked with Chuck Scruggs, program director of WDIA and attorney D'Army Bailey, to raise funds to "Save the Lorraine" in the newly formed Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation and bought the motel on the Shelby County Courthouse steps for $144,000 following foreclosure in December 1982. It changed its name to Lorraine Civil Rights Museum Foundation in 1984. The Lorraine closed as a motel on March 2, 1988 when sheriff's deputies forcibly evicted the last holdout tenant, Jacqueline Smith, in preparation for an $8.8 million overhaul. Bailey died in July 1988. Smithsonian Institution curator Benjamin Lawless created a design for saving historical aspects. The Nashville, Tennessee firm McKissack and McKissack, which claims to be the oldest minority owned architect firm in the United States, was tapped to design a modern museum on grounds of the motel that were not directly related to the assassination. The museum was dedicated on July 4, 1991 and officially opened to the public on Sept. 28, 1991. In 1999 the Foundation acquired the Young and Morrow Building and its associated vacant lot on a hill on the west side of Mulberry. A tunnel was built under the lot connecting it with the motel. The Foundation became the custodian of the police and evidence files associated with the assassination including the rifle and fatal bullet which are on display in a 12,800 sq. foot exhibit in the building which opened Sept. 28, 2002.

The Lorraine Motel had not only guests, but residents as well. The last resident of the motel, Jacqueline Smith, had resided there since 1973 as part of her work for the motel as a housekeeper. When faced with eviction for the museum project, Smith barricaded herself in her room and had to be forcibly evicted. The neighborhood surrounding the Lorraine Motel was a lower-income, predominantly black area. At the time, the area had run-down homes that rented for $175 a month. The homes were demolished and later replaced with more expensive apartments and condominiums, as part of the rejuvenation of the downtown area. Smith stated that the Lorraine "should be put to better uses, such as housing, job training, free college, clinic, or other services for the poor...the area surrounding the Lorraine should be rejuvenated and made decent and kept affordable, not gentrified with expensive condominiums that price the people out of their community." She has also stated that Dr. King would not have wanted $9 million spent on a building for him, and would not have wanted Lorraine Motel residents to be evicted. Smith has maintained a vigil across the street from the Lorraine Motel for up to 21 hours per day for over 20 years, regardless of weather. She still holds vigil outside the Lorraine, although not as consistently as she has in the past.


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