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Tennessee Civil Rights

Civil Rights in Tennessee

The Nashville sit-ins were part of a nonviolent direct action campaign to end racial segregation at lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee. The initial sit-in campaign, coordinated by the Nashville Student Movement and Nashville Christian Leadership Council, lasted from February to May 1960 and was notable for its early success and emphasis on disciplined nonviolence. Though the initial campaign desegregated the downtown lunch counters, sit-ins, pickets, and protests against other segregated facilities continued in Nashville until passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which ended overt, legally-sanctioned segregation nationwide. Many of the organisers of the Nashville sit-ins went on to become important leaders in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.

Rev. James Lawson invited Martin Luther King Jr. to Memphis, Tennessee, in March 1968 to support a strike by sanitation workers. They had launched a campaign for union representation after two workers were accidentally killed on the job.

A day after delivering his famous "Mountaintop" sermon at Lawson's church, King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Riots broke out in more than 110 cities across the United States in the days that followed, notably in Chicago, Baltimore, and in Washington, D.C. The damage done in many cities destroyed black businesses.

The day before King's funeral, April 8, Coretta Scott King and three of the King children led 20,000 marchers through the streets of Memphis, holding signs that read, "Honor King: End Racism" and "Union Justice Now". National Guardsmen lined the streets, perched on M-48 tanks, bayonets mounted, with helicopters circling overhead. On April 9 Mrs. King led another 150,000 in a funeral procession through the streets of Atlanta. Her dignity revived courage and hope in many of the Movement's members, cementing her place as the new leader in the struggle for racial equality.

National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis

The Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, has been transformed into a world-class museum dedicated to the Civil Rights movement. It opened its doors in 1991, and in 2002 opened “Exploring the Legacy”, a 12,800-square-foot expansion that incorporates the Main Street Rooming House, where James Earl Ray fired the fatal shot. The museum is a powerful and poignant testimony to King and the men and women who shared his struggle.

Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum, Memphis

Slave Haven Museum (or Burkle Estate as it is also known) is a white clapboard house built by Jacob Burkle in 1849. Rumour has is that this house on the Underground Railroad served as a way station for the runaway slaves. You can tour the house and visit the cellar where slaves used to wait to escape.


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