The National Civil Rights Museum and Dr. Martin Luther King

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.

News phoot of President Lyndon Johsnon signing the Civil Rights Act, July 2, 1964. Courtesy WikiImages via pixabay.
President Lyndon Johsnon signed the landmark Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964. Courtesy WikiImages via pixabay.

Struggle against injustice is deeply rooted in the Black experience. It is an experience of tragedy and violence, but also one of courage, strength, determination. Films like “Till,” “Harriet,” “Selma” or “12 Years a Slave” only begin to illustrate it. We must tell and retell this story to ensure that the struggles, triumphs, and mistakes of the past can guide the future of all Americans.

The National Civil Rights Museum Commemorates King’s Work

The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee opened in 1991 with this belief in mind. The original museum, now greatly expanded, covers the Civil Rights movement. Examine key events from the 1950’s and 1960’s. Study “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 and a changing gallery. The comprehensive and educational overview of the Civil Rights movement is provided by the interactive collection, research, and public learning programs.

More than 260 artifacts, 40 new films, oral histories, interactive media and listening posts guide visitors through the centuries since 1619. of history Some notable sections include Jim Crow Laws, the story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, and the Black Power movement.

This is just a sampling of many parents’ memories waiting to be sparked. Children today find a fascinating history to explore at the National Civil Rights Museum.

National Civil Rights Museum Full Calendar of Events

Portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr. surrounded by the names of the principles he fought for, by John Hain courtesy pixabay.
Portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the principles he fought for, by John Hain courtesy pixabay.

There are special exhibits to commemorate the annual Martin Luther King Day Celebration held each January on the Federal holiday. Museum admission is free. Family programs and live concerts are planned. This year kicks off the 2023 “Freedom Can’t Wait” exhibit highligting Civil Rights events with major anniversaries.

National Black History Month in February boasts 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, commemorate the legacy of Dr. King, Jr. 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. The former Main Street Rooming House — said to be where the fatal shot was fired — is one wing housing the historic collection.

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

Plan to catch special lectures and displays throughout the year. Or, visit the Freedom Award ceremony held in autumn. 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

Heart of Beale Street, Memphis' music strip, at dusk. Photo by Bruce Emmerling courtesy pixabay.
Beale Street is the heart of Memphis’ blues and jazz music strip. Photo by Bruce Emmerling courtesy pixabay.

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. Watch quarter-finals play out in the popular music clubs on Beale Street. Finalists from more than 200 acts compete 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.

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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