Earlier this month on April 5—this year marking the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act—the National Civil Rights Museum (450 Mulberry St., Memphis, 901-521-9699) emerged from an 18-month, $27.5 million renovation. Located in the arts district of downtown Memphis, the museum is known for its placement inside the original Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968 (tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for children 4 to 17).
From the outside, the ’60s motel looks almost exactly as did on the historic day—flat roof, darkening blonde bricks, green motel doors, and period cars, which are parked under the balcony where King was shot. Set behind glass, Room No. 306 is staged as it was when King was last there with yellow-gold curtains and an old television. The rest of the motel was renovated in 1991 when the museum first opened.
Now, the museum is bigger, deeper, and arguably more poignant. While key exhibits remain the same—such as the Montgomery Bus and Sit-in counter—a slew of new environments transport you to pivotal moments in time. Crouch into the confined hull of a ship carrying slaves, sit in the courtroom where Brown v. Board of Education was decided, examine documents used by grassroots organizers during the Mississippi Freedom Summer project in 1964, and listen to the music and poetry of the Black Power era. In all of these exhibits, you’ll find yourself surrounded by life-size statues.
Another major feature of the renovated museum is interactivity: Large touch screens throughout display mini documentaries and oral histories. The renovation team for the new museum includes Howard & Revis Design Services, 1220 Exhibits, and an impressive 24-member national scholar committee.
Where to stay: Just a 10-minute walk—or trolley ride—away, The Westin Memphis Beale Street (170 Lt. George W. Lee Ave., 901-334-5900; from $199) is also located steps from the Gibson Guitar Factory, the FedExForum sports arena, and Beale-Street clubs such as the Rum Boogie Café.
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