The National Civil Rights Museum: The History

Your Comprehensive Guide to the National Civil Rights Museum

The National Civil Rights Museum

 TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

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National Civil Rights Museum

450 Mulberry St, Memphis, TN 38103-4214, USA
Phone +1 901-521-9699

The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis is a world-renowned cultural attraction that draws thousands of visitors each year. This institution examines the civil rights struggles faced by both our city and our nation throughout history. It also looks at how the struggle continues in today's world. 

The museum holds special events on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend as well as throughout the year. It attracts foreign dignitaries and other guests around the world. 

The Lorraine Motel

Today, the National Civil Rights Museum is partially housed in the Lorraine Motel. The motel's history, however, is a short and sad one. It opened in 1925 and was originally a "white" establishment. By the end of World War II, however, the motel became minority owned. It was for this reason that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stayed at the Lorraine when he visited Memphis in 1968. Dr. King was assassinated on the balcony of his hotel room on April 4th of that year. Following his death, the motel struggled to remain in business. By 1982, the Lorraine Motel went into foreclosure.

Saving the Lorraine

With the future of the Lorraine Motel uncertain, a group of local citizens formed the Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation for the sole purpose of saving the motel. The group raised money, solicited donations, took out a loan, and partnered with Lucky Hearts Cosmetics to purchase the motel for $144,000 when it went up for auction. With the help of the city of Memphis, Shelby County, and the state of Tennessee, enough money was raised to plan, design, and build what would eventually become the National Civil Rights Museum.

The Birth of the National Civil Rights Museum

In 1987, construction began on a civil rights center housed within the Lorraine Motel. The center was intended to help its visitors better understand the events of the American Civil Rights Movement. In 1991, the museum opened its doors to the public. Ten years later, ground was broken again for a multi-million dollar expansion that would add 12,800 square feet space. The expansion would also connect the museum to the Young and Morrow building and the Main Street Rooming House where James Earl Ray purportedly fired the shot that killed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Exterior of the museum

TripSavvy / Ivey Redding


The exhibits at the National Civil Rights Museum illustrate chapters of the fight for civil rights in our country in order to promote better understanding of the struggles involved. These exhibits travel through history beginning with the days of slavery right on up through 20th century fights for equality. Included in the exhibits are photographs, newspaper accounts, and three-dimensional scenes depicting such civil rights events as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, The March on Washington, and the Lunch Counter Sit-Ins.


In September 2016 the National Civil Rights Museum was re-opened after a $28 million renovation. It was its first renovation since its opening, and it added new films, oral histories, and interactive media to the museum. The idea was to make the museum relevant to the next, tech-savvy generation. Another addition was a 7,000 pound bronze statute named Movement to Overcome which honors the people fighting for Civil Rights today. New exhibits were also opened across the street from the Lorraine Museum to explore that topic. 

Location and Contact Information

The National Civil Rights Museum is located in downtown Memphis at:
450 Mulberry Street
Memphis, TN 38103

and may be contacted at:
(901) 521-9699

Visitor Information

Monday and Wednesday - Saturday 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Tuesday - CLOSED
Sunday 1:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.
*June - August, the museum is open until 6:00 p.m.*

Admission Fees:
Adults - $15.00
Seniors and Students (with ID) - $14.00
Children 4-17 - $12
Children 3 and under - Free

Visitors should plan on staying at the museum for at least two hours.  

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History of the National Civil Rights Museum