National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis

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 National Civil Rights Museum, at the historic Lorraine Motel in Memphis, is where civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The Museum brings the movement to life, places events in a historical perspective and provides a focus of national rememberance. Since the Museum opened in 1991, close to 5-million visitors from around the world have come. Recognised as a center for civil rights and social change, the Museum is steadfast in its mission to share the culture and lessons from the Movement and explore how this significant era continues to shape equality and freedom globally.

Through interactive exhibits, historic collections, storytelling, dynamic speakers and events, the museum offers visitors a chance to walk through history and learn more about a tumultuous and inspiring perdiod of change. The Museum invites visitors to Join the Movement, take a stand and share your voice on issues that impact our society, our world.

The "Slavery and a Culture of Resistance" exhibit located in a large round room and is illuminated with maps and information about the Atlantic slave trade. Visitors can crouch into the hull of a slave ship and try to imagine what humans endured as part of the slave trade in the late 1700s. Step aboard a vintage bus and hear the altercation between a public transit system worker in Montgomery and Rosa Parks.

The 1963 March on Washington exhibit immerses the user into a life-like setting while an audio exverpt plays from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

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.

Don't miss these other noteworthy civil rights attractions:

  • Alex Haley Museum and Interpretive Centre, Henning
  • Beck Cultural Exchange Centre, Knoxville
  • Bessie Smith Cultural Center, Chattanooga
  • Civil Rights Room at Nashville Public Library, Nashville
  • Fisk University, Nashville
  • Green McAdoo Cultural Centre, Clinton
  • Highlander Research and Education Centre, Monteagle
  • Withers Collection Museum and Gallery, Memphis
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