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Worth the Drive

By Deborah Reinhardt

Most people know Memphis, Tenn., for its blues music and tempting barbecue, but the city has a deep Civil Rights legacy. Exploring this part of Memphis history can be the basis of a winter weekend getaway.


While a portion of the National Civil Rights Museum is being renovated, visitors have access to the balcony outside room 306 where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stayed. He was killed outside his room on April 4, 1968. (Deborah Reinhardt photo)

Each year, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis plans programs to commemorate the birthday (Jan. 15) of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. While the museum renovates its Lorraine Motel exhibits, visitors have rare access to the balcony outside room 306 where King stayed. This is the first time public access outside the room has been allowed since the museum opened in 1991. The national Civil Rights leader was shot at the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968.

See exhibits inside the Legacy Building across the street from the motel that explore what happened to the Civil Rights Movement in Memphis–and across the globe–following King’s assassination.

The museum’s construction is expected to last until early 2014.

Museum admission is $10 for adults, $9 for seniors and college students, and $8 for children ages 4–17. For more information, visit

A play about King set at the Lorraine Motel the night before his assassination will open Jan. 18 at the Playhouse on the Square (66 S. Cooper). The Mountaintop, presented in collaboration with the Hattiloo Theatre–a local black repertory company–is written by Memphis native Katori Hall. The play, which contains adult language, continues through Feb. 10.

On Jan. 12, a free Civil Rights panel discussion will be from noon to 2 p.m. at the Hattiloo Theatre (656 Marshall).

For information, visit or

Another museum well worth visiting is the Stax Museum of American Soul Music (926 E. McLemore Ave.). Here, visitors will hear music that was popular during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement from artists such as the Staple Singers, Otis Redding, and more. Second only to Motown in sales and influence, Stax placed more than 167 hit songs in the Top 100 on the pop charts, and 243 hits in the Top 100 R&B charts.

But Stax Records was more than just a label. While segregation was supported in the South during the 1960s, Stax was one of the most successfully integrated companies in the country. With more than 200 employees, it was the fifth-largest black-owned business in the United States during its time, and was the most successful record label ever to come out of Memphis.

Stax is closed on Mondays and on Jan. 26 due to a private event. Museum admission is $12 for adults, $11 for seniors and students, $9 for children ages 9–12, and free to children 8 years and younger with a paid adult or senior admission. For more information, visit

Deborah Reinhardt

Jan/Feb 2013 Issue

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