For the past thirty years, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, has been educating visitors about the American Civil Rights Movement. Through interactive exhibits, historical collections, and special events, the museum gives visitors the chance to walk through history and hopefully inspires change for the future.
Though we’ve driven through Memphis several times, we’ve never made a trip to the National Civil Rights Museum. The museum underwent a MAJOR renovation in 2013-2014, and I knew it had to be one of our stops on this trip (2015). We bought a membership before we left because a family membership was cheaper than paying for all of us to get in! This is no longer the case, although the membership is definitely worth it if you’re planning to visit more than once a year.
The museum is located at the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated in 1968. While the museum covers his life and death, it also provides a comprehensive explanation of the entire American civil rights movement.
As could be expected for a museum of this type, some of the exhibits’ materials are of a sensitive nature. There is a phenomenal family guide available that walks you through those sensitive materials and encourages talking to your kids about what could be troubling content.
This is the view from the window next to the bathroom window in the rooming house. The bathroom itself and the bathroom window have been preserved and encased in glass- you can’t go in, but you can look in and see what it looked like on that fateful day over 50 years ago.
The inside of the Lorraine Motel has been converted to an amazing museum, and it begins with a graphic look at the global impact of slavery.
We learned about sit-ins and had a chance to sit on barstools at a replica 1960s lunch counter. This exhibit was nowhere near as intense as the one at the Center For Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, but the video footage playing on the wall does show a great deal of violence.
The kids ended up jailed in Birmingham, which they thought was fun, and as an adult, brought back memories of being in the jail cells at Alcatraz.
All the kids squished in the back of the bus (with Rosa Parks at the front). While some of these exhibits touched on aspects of the Civil Rights Movement that they’ve heard of, like Rosa Parks and the bus, others were completely new information and opened up the door for more discussion.
We had the chance to watch civil rights news on TV, and the kids were both shocked and appalled that back in the day, TVs really were that small AND the programming wasn’t in color.
We learned about the March on Washington in 1963 and the Memphis sanitation strike of 1968.
The museum ends with a look at the preserved Room 306- the room that King was staying in on his trip to Memphis. While I think that our kids had a relatively good understanding of the civil rights movement both from school and from being exposed to it at home (we do like our documentaries and American history!), this museum brought it to life and showcased the cruel injustices in American history in a way that they had never seen before.
The National Civil Rights Museum was one of the highlights of our trip, and we will definitely be back again. We spent about two hours exploring the museum and grounds, but you could easily spend four to five hours if you want to read everything.
TIPS FOR VISITING THE NATIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS MUSEUM
- The museum has reopened!!
- Timed tickets are sold online, and walk-ups are taken based on availability.
- Adults are $17, Seniors 55+ are $15, Kids ages 5-17 are $14, and 4 and under are free.
- Free parking is available – to access the lot, turn north on Mulberry St from G.E. Patterson Ave.
- The Family Guide is a must-read if you’re bringing younger kids.