The National Civil Rights Museum Memphis was on the top of our list of things to do in Memphis when we recently visited the city with our kids. The kids were 15, 13, 13 and 10 at the time we visited.
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History of the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis
The museum is located at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated in 1968. Prior to that the hotel was one of the view that catered to both black and white people. Up until 1988 there were tenants staying in the hotel.
In 1991 the museum was opened. In 1999 they added the Young and Morrow Building and the vacant lot on the west side of the hotel. The museum closed in 2012 for major renovations and was reopened in 2014.
Tickets and Entry To The Civil Rights Museum
The morning we were going to visit we checked online and it looked like they had timed entry tickets and that tickets were quickly selling out. For this reason we did buy our tickets online. Upon arriving at the museum we were under the impression we could have just walked in and bought tickets. I am assuming they are moving away from timed entry.
There was a wait for getting into the museum. But you wait in a line outside that has a variety of kiosks that are sharing information about Martin Luther King Jr and the museum. It was a cool day when we were there. But they did have a tent setup to over cover if you were waiting in the rain or under the hot sun.
Once entering you had to go through a metal detector. They searched through by purse and I walked through the metal detector. Be sure to check the site for what you can and cannot bring in to the museum.
Upon entering we waited in line to get our tickets. Yes, we had bought them online but we still needed to wait to get up to the counter to get the physical tickets. Once we had the tickets they sent us through the photo exhibit.
Prior to that we did all stop in the bathroom – which is available to you once you are through the ticket area.
Check out the Civil Rights Museum website for more information.
Museum Experience At The Civil Rights Museum
We walked through the exhibit following a group of other people. It seemed this was their way to break up who was where in the museum and to have people more spread out.
The photo exhibit was about UNC. It seemed like it was a permeant exhibit but could also be switched out for something else in the future.
After that we headed to the first exhibit. We were told to walk through the exhibit while we waited for the next movie showing.
There is a timer that tells you when the next movie will start. We walked through the exhibit and waited for the movie. It was a 12 minute movie about how slavery started, ended, but as we all know didn’t really end and instead moved into the Civil Rights movement and introduced some the the Civil Rights Leaders of the time.
The movie ended with the time when Jim Crowe started. At this point the screen moved and opened up a large doorway that they had us all walk through to continue our tour of the museum.
The museum had a variety of things on display and information to read along with videos throughout that you could choose to stop and watch.
You follow the flow of the museum that takes you through a timeline of the Civil Rights movement. You are able to walk on a bus with a statue of Rosa Parks sitting at the front of the bus and a recording of the bus driver telling her she has to move.
From there you see a display of the peaceful restaurant sit – ins that people performed. With a movie to watch showing what actually happened at some of these sit-ins.
You continue through the museum with more displays and information explaining how people fought for their Civil Rights.
Martin Luther King Jr
Towards the end of the museum tour (which is all self guided) you come up to multiple videos of Martin Luther King Jr speaking. We made sure to have our kids stop to listen to him speak. He was such a powerful speaker.
The last part you walk through the museum at the Lorraine Motel which is a hallway of what was the hotel where you can see in on 2 hotel rooms. One being room 306. The balcony location where Martin Luther King Jr was shot.
They show images of when he was shot and everyone around him pointing to where the shot came from to help people capture the shooter.
From here you make your way through the gift shop. They have a variety of t-shirts, stickers, and souvenirs that you can purchase.
If you didn’t have to wait in line this would be a time when you could stop to check out the outside displays. Plus take a minute to look up at the balcony where he was shot. It has a white and red wreath on it.
After this – if your ticket has it on it – ours did – but we didn’t know it did. So if you are interested in this be sure to get the right ticket. We were able to walk through a tunnel and up to the boarding house where the shot was fired.
In this part of the museum you can look at the bathroom and window where the shot was taken. They also have additional windows you can look through to see the angle the shooter took.
From there they have a display that talks about how they captured James Earl Ray and also conspiracy theories and information about how they think he may have had help. Also the fact the bullet doesn’t match the gun, and a variety of other facts, assumptions, conspiracies about what happened.
After this the self-guided tour is done.
Planning Your Stay
It took us about 2 hours to get through the whole museum. We did not stop to read every sign or watch every movie. But we did stop a lot. With it being self guided it would be up to you how long you are there.
I recommend you plan on 2 hours.
The whole experience is moving and also unfathomable. Our youngest was 10 and I would have taken the kids through the museum when they were any age.
Where To Eat
There are so many great places to eat in Memphis! Check out our post: The 6 Restaurants in Memphis You Don’t Want To Miss!!
Arcade Restaurant – breakfast/lunch
Prior to visiting the Civil Rights Museum you can stop at the Arcade Restaurant – the oldest cafe in Memphis to grab brunch or lunch. Their french toast is amazing and if you are up for it you can try the Elvis famous banana and peanut butter sandwich.
Capitol BBQ – lunch/dinner
One of the top rated BBQ places in Memphis is located across the street from the museum. We had some of their ribs and they were delicious!
Gus’s Chicken – lunch/dinner
Ranked by some as the best chicken in the US you can make a stop here for lunch or dinner. We got some to go and headed across the street to the distillery to each our chicken and try some of the whisky, bourbon and cocktails.
Where To Stay
We opted to stay in a vacation rental. If you would rather stay in a hotel you can check out the Pea Body in downtown. You will want to be sure to see the ducks when you visit!
Other Things To Do In Memphis
We stayed for 3 nights in Memphis and it gave us the right amount of time to explore the city and what it has to offer! We have a post about all of the great things to do in Memphis which includes our 2 day itinerary.
Sun Studio Tour
Go and see where Rock and Roll was born! This is a guided tour. You will see a small museum upstairs before going down to the studio.
In the studio you get a chance to sing into the same microphone that Elvis used!
We went to Beale Street with our kids and visited the A Schwabb store for some old fashioned sodas and to look around and all the funky things they have in the store.
We also went back around 7:30/8pm to walk the street with our kids so we could hear the music coming out of the bars. It was cool to see the street during the day and to also see it at night when everything was lit up.
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