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National Civil Rights Museum

National Civil Rights Museum Memphis, TN

AUGUST 28, 1963

More than 250,000 people join in the March on Washington. Congregating at the Lincoln Memorial, participants listened
as Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Earlier this summer, my daughter and I took the most memorable road trip spanning Tennessee from Knoxville to Memphis, Tennessee. We made a list of things different tourist things we wanted to see and do, from Dollywood to Graceland, and even experienced our first Waffle House meal, but nothing and I mean nothing could prepare us for our final destination, the National Civil Rights Museum, or as some may remember it as, the Lorraine Motel.

National Civil Rights Museum Memphis, TN

For as long as I could remember, Kiddo (10) has always taken a very special interest in periods throughout history regarding civil rights. Something about these eras has struck a cord deep within her. She is passionate about the topic, and will take any and every chance to educate herself on the subject devouring books from all periods throughout time. So when I told her we would be flying home out of Memphis she made it clear we needed to carve out time to visit the Lorraine Motel, the place where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated on the balcony of his hotel room on April 4th, 1968.

I wasn’t surprised one bit and quite proud actually. Knowing that I am raising a bright, compassionate, and tolerant citizen of the world is everything I sought out to do. But I never knew I could learn so much from the example of a child, and for this I’m grateful.

National Civil Rights Museum Memphis, TN

Lorraine Motel

In order to gain entrance of the National Civil Rights Museum, you must walk the parking lot passed Room 306 when Martin Luther King Jr. stood for the very last time. A forever wreath hangs from the balcony marking the spot over two white Cadillacs, but it is not until you take the tour that you truly understand the magnitude and importance of this historical landmark.

National Civil Rights Museum Memphis, TN

The tour begins with the history of slavery and how the men and women were transported to America on boats in poor conditions just like we’ve read in school history books, but it’s around every corner that your heart sinks deep and deeper until it is impossible not to be emotionally moved by each interactive exhibit bringing moments in history to life.

Art Imitates Reality

This was especially heavy for Kiddo the moment she found herself in room face-to-face with Klu Klux Klan members fully dressed in their white robes and hoods staring down on her and the rest of the visitors. That was the moment she realized that up until now, she could keep a safe distance by simply closing a book or turning off a TV program, and it was the moment that changed everything for her. This wasn’t someone’s artistic interpretation of “what could have happen,” that she’s read in a book, or Hollywood’s depiction of what happened, at this moment she was standing in the middle of a room feeling the horror others must have felt over the years. She was walking in someone else’s shoes.

National Civil Rights Museum Memphis, TN

More than once throughout the tour  she broke down sobbing uncontrollably. With tears streaming down her face in her mind she wasn’t Coco anymore, she was on of the little girls from the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, she was Ruby Bridges, the first black child to desegregate an all white elementary school in Louisiana, and she was Rosa Parks being viciously scolded by an angry bus driver. Overcome with emotion and a lump in her throat she repeated the phrase, “It’s not fair,” over and over. 

Today my daughter realized that the world isn’t made of butterflies and rainbows. She saw and heard just how evil people could be when given power by restricting them from their freedoms and worse, forms of brutality. 

National Civil Rights Museum Memphis, TN

National Civil Rights Museum Memphis, TN

Room 306

The last exhibit is Dr. King’s room which is preserved just as he left it that morning down to the day’s newspaper. The silence was deafening. Not one other soul in the room with us said a word, a whisper, or muster a thought. I watched as her eyes swelled up with tears and it was hard not to myself.  She pointed outside the window at the cement sidewalk slab they replaced where Martin Luther King’s blood stained and quickly left the room. As she turned the corner, she broke down completely. She kept repeating, “It’s not fair…mama, it’s not fair. None of this is fair.”

National Civil Rights Museum Memphis, TN

Please Exit Through The Gift Shop

Patrons were directed to exit through the gift shop and Coco’s eagle eye spotted a black shirt that she ran over and picked up. “Oh, mom! I really want this one, can I have it?” The right writing on the front said ERACISM with the definition on the back and I couldn’t have been more proud of her decision. 

ERACISM |ē-rā-sizəm| noun
the removal from existence of the belief that one race is superior to another.

There Is Good Everywhere

A visitor approached us at the counter and told us she was behind us for most of the tour. She kept a watchful eye and noticed how visibly moved Coco was throughout the different time periods and had bought Coco a beautiful bracelet from the gift shop. The woman explained she wanted Coco to have it with hopes that “She never forget this visit and always remembers to be kind to each other.”

Neither of us ever will. 

Have you visited the National Civil Rights Museum?

We would love to know more about your experience. By sharing your memories in our comment section below, you help fellow travelers in The JetSet Family community decide the best fit for them and their families. Let us know what you liked most, or if you have any questions about spending time at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.

Written by Nicole Standley

Nicole Standley

Founder + Creative Officer, Nicole Standley, shares her favorite trends in travel, food + wine, fashion, health, and fun on The JetSet Family and is a long time travel + lifestyle contributor for CBS Los Angeles, Huffington Post, and Hilton Hotels. She is a brand ambassador for Netflix and O, The Oprah Magazine, and has been named Top Family Travel Blogger by Trip Advisor and Red Tricycle. Follow her on Instagram at: nicoleDstandley

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