Tips For Visiting The Civil Rights Museum Memphis

The National Civil Rights Museum Memphis was at 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.

Our family standing by the Lorraine Motel sign.

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. Before that, the hotel was one of the few that catered to 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

Picture of Lorraine Motel and the balcony where Martin Luther King Jr was shot.

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 to get into the museum. But you wait in a line outside that has various kiosks 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 set up to 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 my purse, and I walked through the metal detector. Be sure to check the site for what you can and cannot bring into 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.

Before that, we all stopped 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

Civil Rights Museum exhibit showing the bus where Rosa Parks sat.

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 permanent 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 and ended, but as we all know, it didn’t really end and instead moved into the Civil Rights movement and introduced some of 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

Knox watching the Martin Luther King Jr I Have A Dream Speech on a TV at the Civil Rights Museum - a top thing to do in Memphis Tennessee.

Toward 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.

In the last part, you walk through the museum at the Lorraine Motel, a hallway of the hotel where you can see 2 hotel rooms. One is 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.

Outside Exhibits

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.

Boarding House

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, 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, and 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!!

Craig eating a banana and peanut butter sandwich at the Arcade Restaurant.

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 Elvis’s 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

Cannon holding a piece of Gus's chicken in front of the Gus's Chicken restaurant.

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 eat 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 the great things to do in Memphis, including our 2-day itinerary.

Sun Studio Tour

Kids standing outside of the Sun Studio.

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!

Beale Street

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 7:30/8 pm 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.

More Things To Do In Tennessee

11 Best Places to Visit in Downtown Memphis

6 Restaurants in Memphis You Don’t Want to Miss!

The Most Amazing Things To Do In Chattanooga With Kids

29 Absolutely Enjoyable Things To Do In Nashville

Best Things To Do In Smoky Mountains National Park

Top 8 Fun Things To Do In Knoxville With Kids

Pin This Post:

Tips for visiting the Civil Rights Museum when in Memphis, Tennessee.

DISCLOSURE: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you. Please read my disclosure for more info.