I love museums that feature “on-site” history. That is to say, something happened there, and that’s why it’s a museum. I think that’s why the La Brea Tar Pits museum was such a special place to take my son in his early years. He loved paleontology, but the fact that everything in the museum had been excavated from the very property where the museum sat made it extra special.
Martin Luther King Jr.
During this month when we pay particular attention to Martin Luther King Jr., I wanted to recommend the tragic site where he was killed in 1968, which has become a profoundly interesting and well-developed museum. We all know what happened at the Lorraine Motel on that fateful day when King was assassinated. We can see the images of his entourage pointing across the parking lot toward the window where James Earl Ray fired the fatal shot.
Back in 2008, when I was a national spokesman for the Save-A-Landmark program, we did a refurbishment project at the museum, repainting the railings at the exact site where King was struck. As my son and I sat there painting, it was impossible not to be deeply affected by the fact that we were at the very site where that unfortunate history was made.
About the museum
The museum today is dedicated to telling numerous important civil rights stories from Rosa Parks to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to many other important American civil rights icons. But it is King that I’ve thought about most whenever I have visited the museum in Memphis. His words and actions have always resonated very deeply with me. I think I was in second grade when I heard the news about his shooting and it’s one of my earliest memories—seeing my parents deeply affected and very upset.
Such a random place for a museum. A roadside motel. But it allows you to fully immerse yourself not just in that tragic moment but in many moments related to King’s life. So many artifacts and so much rich storytelling. It’s one of my favorite museums in the world.
Directly across from the motel, just a short walk that’s included as part of the museum tour, is the boarding house where the shooter positioned himself. It’s one of the most haunting places to visit in this country. To stand right at the window and look across the way and realize that you are standing right where the killer was. Again, there is just something about museums and historic sites that allow you to step into the space where history was made.
Visit the museum
If you’re ever on the road near Memphis, I strongly recommend a visit to the National Civil Rights Museum. It’s more than simply where Martin Luther King Jr. was taken from this world. It’s a thoughtful, world-class collection of displays, exhibits, and artifacts that help tell some of this country’s most important stories.
Read more from Chris Epting here.
Chris Epting is an author, award-winning journalist/photographer and dedicated road-tripper. His best-selling books including James Dean Died Here (the locations of America’s pop culture landmarks), Roadside Baseball, and The Birthplace Book, along with many others that remain popular with many travelers and RVers throughout the country and world. He is excited to be contributing to RVTravel.com and looks forward to helping to lead you places you may not have discovered otherwise. You may learn more about Chris at his author’s site, www.chrisepting.com.
We were there in 2020 but COVID had shut down the museum. Hopefully next time it will be open. We did however get to visit all of the sites in Montgomery Alabama last year but sadly some of the sites in Selma and the road from Selma to Montgomery were closed along with the museum about the Tuskegee airmen. I think it is very important that every living breathing person visit these sites to help educate themselves about the atrocities committed against people weather they are black, Jewish, Native American, Irish, and many other ethnic groups.
Excellent article. And viewing the Peace Train museum is a ‘never forget’ experience, too.
Thank you for this heartfelt informative article! History is history no matter how folks try to change it. As an African American teacher of 33 years and a 2019 Tiffin diesal pusher owner, I see and experience racial ignorance in and out of campgrounds. Your article gives people of all races a place to visit while RVing. Again, thank you!
WOW. Just Wow. We will definitely stop here the next time we are heading through the area. Also a big “Thank You” to Chris and all Americans who do their best to honestly keep our history alive for our younger generations. I am unfamiliar with his work but won’t be for long
Thank you for this article about the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Having been there also, I concur that it is a deeply affecting and important place to visit.