Historic civil rights center now national shrine after MLK Jr. died in 1968
The National Civil Rights Museum (NCRM) at the Lorraine Motel has announced it will welcome back visitors starting March 1 after area health restrictions in December caused the museum to be closed to protect guests and staff. The museum is still requiring guests to wear masks and purchase timed tickets online prior to visiting the civil rights shrine to maintain social distancing and capacity guidelines provided by health officials.
Established in 1991 in downtown Memphis near the banks of the Mississippi River, the former Lorraine Motel is the place where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, on the balcony outside of his room. The museum was first temporarily closed to the public nearly a year ago on March 17 after COVID-19 was declared a global. Later in 2020, it reopened in the fall with limited hours and some virtual and online programming but was shuttered again in late 2020 due to a local COVID-19 outbreak.
After the late 2020 closing, Lorraine Museum officials had to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day virtually on Jan. 18 with two museum webcasts. That virtual program included musical performances and lectures that were live-streamed on the museum’s website.
“Reopening March 1, when it’s safer – and only because it’s safer – is our promise. Our commitment to providing a safe experience for our staff and guests remains our ultimate goal,” said Faith Morris, the museum’s Chief Marketing and External Affairs Officer. “To be closed during Black History Month was a tough one for us. During February many turn their thoughts and interests to celebrating and learning more about Black achievement and contributions. The best thing is our guests haven’t missed this opportunity in visiting the museum after Black History Month because our storytelling of Black History transcends February.”
According to Morris, staff and guests will be required to wear face masks and follow U.S. Center for Disease and Control (CDC) COVID-19 regulations while on the museum’s campus, especially inside the center. Masks are provided for guests who arrive without them, and hand sanitizer dispensers and regular disinfection are part of the museum’s plan to protect everyone’s health.
Also, Lorraine Museum staff will undergo daily temperature checks and there will be frequent sanitization of high touch areas daily and water fountains will be disable. Throughout the museum, signage and floor markings will help visitors maintain social distancing six feet apart, officials said.
Initially, the downtown Memphis museum’s hours are being adjusted to Monday 9 am to 5 pm with a free period for Tennessee residents from 3-5 pm, and Thursday through Sunday 9 am – 5 pm. The museum will be closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Admission pricing remains the same, and tickets can currently be purchased at civilrightsmuseum.org for March 1 and after. Timed ticketing is scheduled every 15 minutes to regulate capacity and social distancing. Use of credit or debit cards instead of cash is encouraged in the museum store, officials said.
Museum officials said the historic MLK shrine will continue monitoring updates by health officials to ensure the safety of its employees and guests. While open, staff also will be strategically placed within exhibits for gallery tours and to assist visitors.
However, over the first few weeks of reopening, guided tours will be limited, while museum in-person events and programs are cancelled or hosted virtually until further notice. Interpretive talks will be staged outdoors in the museum courtyard, weather permitting. Like earlier, Lorraine Museum officials said the civil rights center will still offer some online programming in the coming months.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), since the outbreak of the coronavirus, museum institutions large and small, public and private, have had to close their doors, most of them for a foreseeable future. An estimated 90% of the world’s approximately 60,000 museums are facing full, partial or eventual closure.
“Regardless of size, location or status, museums are facing tough challenges, including protecting their collections, ensuring that staff are safe and healthy, dealing with financial issues, and staying engaged with their public,” UNESCO said in an April 2020 report. “They are contributing to our society, proposing innovative ideas and inspiring everyone in this difficult and uncertain time.”
During the nationwide protests and civil unrest over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the Lorraine Museum was a point of focus for protesters in the Memphis area and the South. On the night after Floyd’s death, a large group of protesters marched through the streets of downtown Memphis, singing and shouting slogans to voice the outrage after the handcuffed black man died after a Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into his neck as he pleaded for air.
In one moment captured in the press locally and nationally on the second day after Floyd’s death on May 25, a racially mixed crowd of protesters gathered in front of the FedExForum, the basketball and concert venue near the famed Beale Street in downtown Memphis. At the time, the large protest group walked one mile toward the historic museum where MLK Jr. was killed nearly 53 years ago when it was a well-known local hotel.
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