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The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennesseemarker, USAmarker, was built around the former Lorraine Motel at 450 Mulberry Street, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4 1968.

The Lorraine Motel remained open following King's assassination until it was foreclosed in 1982. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Foundation purchased the property at auction in December of that year. In 1987 construction of the museum started, opening its doors to visitors on September 28, 1991. The exhibits of the museum tell the story of the struggle for African American civil rights from the arrival of the first Africans in the British colonies in 1619 to the assassination of King in 1968.

An expansion project in 2001 added the Young and Morrow Building to the museum, the latter being a former rooming house at 418 South Main Street from which the shots were fired that killed King. James Earl Ray was convicted of the assassination and sentenced to 99 years in prison. The exhibits in the rooming house relate the events of the assassination, the Poor People's Campaign, and the legacy of the civil rights movement. It includes a panel describing the murder of the Reverend James Reeb in Selma, Alabama.


The Lorraine Motel had not only guests, but residents as well. The last resident of the motel, Jacqueline Smith, had resided there since 1973 as part of her work for the motel as a housekeeper. When faced with eviction for the museum project, Smith barricaded herself in her room and had to be forcibly evicted.

The neighborhood surrounding the Lorraine Motel was a lower-income, predominately black area. At the time, the area had run-down homes that rented for $175 a month. The homes were demolished and later replaced with more expensive apartments and condominiums, as part of the rejuvenation of the downtown area.

Smith stated that the Lorraine "should be put to better uses, such as housing, job training, free college, clinic, or other services for the poor...the area surrounding the Lorraine should be rejuvenated and made decent and kept affordable, not gentrified with expensive condominiums that price the people out of their community." She has also stated that Dr. King would not have wanted $9 million spent on a building for him, and would not have wanted Lorraine Motel residents to be evicted.

Smith has maintained a vigil across the street from the Lorraine Motel for up to 21 hours per day for almost 20 years, regardless of weather. She still holds vigil outside the Lorraine, although not as consistently as she has in the past.

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