Tennessee: The Lorraine Motel, Memphis

Lorraine Motel
Lorraine Motel Photograph by Lloyd Ostby

Quick Facts

Location:
450 Mulberry in Memphis, Tennessee in the South Main Historic District. Visit: http://civilrightsmuseum.org/
OPEN TO PUBLIC:
Yes

On April 4, 1968, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated here at the Lorraine Motel, just a day after speaking at the Mason Temple Church of God in Christ. Built in 1925, the Lorraine Hotel was a typical Southern hotel accessible only to whites in its early history (it was renamed the Lorraine Motel after the second floor was added). However, by the end of World War II, the Lorraine had become a black establishment which had among its early guests Cab Colloway, Count Basie, and other prominent jazz musicians, in addition to later celebrities such as Roy Campanella, Nat King Cole, and Aretha Franklin. Partly because of its historical importance to the black community of Memphis, Martin Luther King chose to stay at the Lorraine during the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike.

King, Abernathy, Andrew Young and other black leaders had come to Memphis to support 1,300 striking sanitation workers. Their grievances included unfair working conditions (on rainy days, black workers had to return home without pay while paid white supervisors remained on the job, and black workers were given only one uniform and no place in which to change clothes), and poor pay (the highest-paid black worker could not hope to earn more than $70 a week). Following a bloody confrontation between marching strikers and police, a court injunction had been issued banning further protests. King hoped their planned march would overturn the court injunction, but such plans were cut short on April 4, 1968 when an assassin shot and killed King on the balcony of King's room. In 1991, the Lorraine Motel was converted into the National Civil Rights Museum.