By Courtney Anderson
MEMPHIS, TN- The Lorraine Motel is a renowned institution that has both a dark and hopeful history.
Famous guests of the motel include Jackie Robinson, Isaac Hayes and B.B. King. At its peak, the motel was high-end, hosting the biggest black stars, politicians and activists of the day.
The iconic “Lorraine Motel” sign has lasted through history as a symbol for a safe place of black people to come and stay.
The motel is best known however for a tragic reason.
The motel, located on 450 Mulberry Street, is the site of one of the most famous assassinations in the whole of human history.
In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King came to Memphis for the Sanitation Worker’s Strike. On April 3, 1968, King gave his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountain Speech,” in which he urged sanitation workers to keep pushing forward for their rights. King did not want the fight to end in Memphis.
But King’s fight did end in Memphis. On April 4, 1968, King was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. From then on, the Lorraine Motel was known as the place where King drew his last breath.
Following King’s death, the Lorraine Motel fell on extremely hard times. Its owner, Walter Bailey, was unable to continue to pay for it and declared bankruptcy in 1982. The motel was about to be shut down, until an organization called “Save the Lorraine” bought it for a measly $144,000. It was then that the motel would be prepped to take on its new life.
Years later, the Lorraine Motel became home to and one of the most attended attractions of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.
The room where King stayed, room 306, has been preserved. The museum is filled with interactive exhibits, movies and artifacts from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Attendance is free on Mondays, so that more of the public can wander through the halls of history.
The museum has been home to many events and speakers, including a poetry reading and interview with the poet, Nikki Giovanni, and a reading festival hosted by actress Kathy Bates and activist Ruby Bridges, the first black person to integrate a school after the Brown v. Board of Education decision.
And on June 4, 2016, the museum is hosting another historical event.
The National Civil Rights Museum is hosting the “Night at the Lorraine” event from 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.
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Organized by museum employee Jeanette O’Bryant, the event is being held to “celebrate the vibrant history of the Lorraine Motel for the benefit of the National Civil Rights Museum.”
The event will feature live music, food catered by Memphis restaurants, a silent auction and tours of the museum.
Those who attend the event will be able to see how well-preserved everything is.
The 1959 Dodge Royal and 1968 Cadillac are still parked outside, right underneath the white wreath that hangs from of the balcony where King died.
The font of the “Lorraine Motel” sign is still the same and so are the colors. The song Mahalia Jackson sung at King’s funeral still plays in room 306 and the adjacent hallway.
But the history isn’t the only thing attendees will see.
Event volunteer Nicole Gates, who initially heard about “Night at the Lorraine” through email, says the museum has seen some upgrades. Gates said it sounded like a “really fun” event that could show off new aspects of the museum and motel.
“I think it’s a great idea getting Memphians out to see this amazing renovation and walk through of the civil rights movement,” Gates said in an interview with RISE NEWS. “Having this event at night will expose more people to the newly renovated venue.”
According to the National Civil Rights Museum website, renovations began in 2013 and have cost over $27.5 million.
The online description of the updates states that the changes, “reminds visitors of its charge to keep pushing civil rights issues forward.”
Gates said she hopes this event will encourage native Memphians to visit the museum, the Lorraine Motel and all of its history.
“Although I am not a native Memphian, I have been to the old museum and have seen the renovations of the new museum,” Gates said. “I find it absolutely amazing to meet people that were born and raised in Memphis, but have never visited the museum. I hope this changes the game.”
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Cover Photo Credit: Carl Wycoff/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)