I did not find out until earlier this week that the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis is currently being renovated. That means it is mostly closed. Not a great way to start out this epic voyage to significant civil rights sites. However, our plans were set, and the museum is still, technically, “open,” so off we went.
The museum is located in what was the Lorraine Motel in 1968. This is the location where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. This may not seem like an auspicious spot for a museum, but it really is a very fitting and moving memorial. While the renovations are underway, the displays that are open are in the boarding house across from the Lorraine Motel. (The boarding house is the location from which the fatal shot was fired.) Also, the balcony outside King’s room at the motel is open for visitors so that they can stand in the actual location where King was shot. It turns out that most of the displays and information that is currently available relate to the shooting and the subsequent capture and conviction of James Earl Ray.
I was able to stand in the room from which Ray fired the shot, and look out from the window to the balcony. It was a creepy feeling knowing what happened here. Then, I was able to stand on the balcony itself and see and feel the very spot where Dr. King was shot down. That was an extremely moving experience. Words and pictures cannot convey the reality that descended on me as I stood in that spot and looked across to see the window from which the shot was fired. So very, very sad to be touched once again by this tragic assassination. I guess that is part of why I wanted to take this trip: visiting the actual sites where history was made makes that history come alive in a way that no other experience can provide.
I experienced a multitude of thoughts and feelings during my visit to the museum. I saw physical evidence of the FBI’s surveillance of Dr. King. I saw a ton of the physical evidence that the state used in their case against Ray. I read lots about conspiracy theories and questions about whether Ray actually operated on his own. I’m glad we started our journey of exploration in this place, in spite of the fact that the visit produced in me an overwhelming sense of sadness while I stood on that balcony.