The National Civil Rights Museum and Dr. Martin Luther King
Get inspired at the civil rights museum Memphis and learn more about Dr. Martin Luther King.
The Memphis skyline today.

Even if you’ve seen the very special Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington DC, your family should not miss an opportunity to visit “his” museum: The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. Each winter, this fascinating collection runs several special family programs at the National Civil Rights Museum in honor of Dr. King and Black History Month.

Struggle against injustice is deeply rooted in the African-American experience. It is an experience of tragedy and violence, but also one of courage, strength, determination, and hope as anyone who has seen “Selma” or “12 Years a Slave” can testify. For all Americans, this story should be told and retold to ensure that the struggles, triumphs, and mistakes of the past can guide the future.

The National Civil Rights Museum Commemorates King’s Work

The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee was opened in 1991 with this belief in mind. The original museum housed over 10,000-square-feet of permanent exhibits and more than doubled in size a decade later. Now there’s a detailed time line of the Civil Rights movement from the 1950’s and 1960’s as well as the exhibit “Exploring the Legacy” which chronicles events since Dr. King’s assassination.

The museum brings this history to life, making for a very powerful experience. It engages visitors of every age with programs in the auditorium, a courtyard for dramatic presentations, a changing gallery, a gift shop, and staff offices. The comprehensive and educational overview of the civil rights movement is provided by the many interactive parts of the collection, research, and public learning programs.

Some notable sections include Jim Crow Laws; Voices of Struggle; Booker T Washington; Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka; Little Rock; the Montgomery Bus Boycott; Students Sit-Ins; and the March on Washington and much more.

This is just a sampling of many parents’ memories waiting to be sparked, while children have a fascinating history to explore at the National Civil Rights Museum.

There are special exhibits to commemorate the annual Martin Luther King Day Celebration held each January on the Federal holiday. For National Black History Month in February, there are new exhibits in all the major museums, another cultural reason that makes winter a perfect time to explore this treasure.

The Tennessee climate is relatively mild, too, and there are lots of fun family activities in Memphis.

Remember Dr. King’s Death All Year Round

Additionally, each April, the legacy of Dr. King, Jr. is commemorated on the anniversary of his April 4, 1968, assassination at the Lorraine Motel. The National Civil Rights Museum is actually located adjacent to the former Lorraine Motel and in nearby buildings, including the Main Street Rooming House across the way, from which the fatal shot was allegedly fired.

Throughout the summer, there are frequent concerts and performing arts held at the museum.

Special lectures and displays are scheduled throughout the year, but another good time to visit is during autumn when the Freedom Award ceremony is held. Past honorees have included Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, Barbara Jordan, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former US President Jimmy Carter, Elie Wiesel, Yitzhak Rabin, and Andrew Young.

Visiting the Civil Rights Movement in Memphis

Memphis is a wonderful city with great food, music, attractions and accommodations in all price ranges.  The Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau is a local resource for information on other sites that chronicle the African-American experience, and they promote seasonal specials at several hotels.

To complement the annual King Day Celebration held each January, the city also celebrates its blues music heritage. In years past, the Blues Foundation organizes the International Blues Challenge the last weekend in January. It’s always been a huge talent show-style hunt for new blues bands. The quarter-finals are played in the popular music clubs on Beale Street, with the finals held at the Orpheum Theatre — a great show for the whole family if you can get tickets.

The National Civil Rights Museum is located at 450 Mulberry Street Memphis, TN 38103; and is open daily except Tuesday, from 9am-5pm. On Sunday it opens from 1pm-5pm and during summer, remains open till 6pm. Check their website for current operating hours, which have been curtailed during the pandemic.

Those unable to visit the museum in person can take an interactive virtual tour of the museum at Civil Rights Museum web site, which highlights permanent exhibits, using still images and panoramic views.

Have you visited the National Civil Rights Museum? Let us know about your experience by leaving a comment below!

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