National Civil Rights Museum

This is the second installment of my Memphis reviews. Before returning to Nashville, we stopped at the National Civil Rights Museum. It’s partly located in the Lorraine Hotel where Dr Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.

The first section of the museum chronologically guides you through significant Civil Rights moments. It starts with a small section on slavery. Although small, it provides an overview that places the rest of the museum in context. You are then guided through the Civil War, Brown Vs Board of Education, Freedom Rides, etc. etc. Each section is clearly divided through the use of different coloured boards and information panels. It’s a very informative museum with didactic exhibitions that present narratives. Even though there is a large overriding narrative, each different section also contains its own story that can be traced through the text and objects.

Lorraine Hotel

Large amounts of text are almost always accompanied by films and photographs. There are objects on display, however, these begin to peter out as the museum progresses. In some sections there are large objects on display including a Freedom Rides bus and a reconstructed Woolworths counter from North Carolina. Alongside all of this there are many oral history interviews you can listen to relating to most of the events. The museum, therefore, provides a multitude of ways in which you can interact with the subject matter.

For me, the most powerful section was on Rosa Parks and the rise of Dr King. A bus similar to the one that Parks refused to stand in is on display. The thematic panels dotted around the room explained the event in detail and explored the aftermath as well as the actual event itself. I similarly found myself reading every panel in the section on the Woolworths counter sit-ins.

Example of Montgomery bus.

Before exiting the museum you can walk through a memorial to Dr King. In the preserved Lorraine Hotel, you can see his hotel room, as it was, on the day of the assassination. There is a segment of museum across the road where the assassin was situated. This section focuses on what occurred after 1968 and the legacy of Dr King.

Both sections are clearly emotional places. In terms of how the museum is pieced together, these exhibitions are extremely well curated.

Woolworth’s counter sit-in bench from North Carolina

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