We’re going to Mulberry Street in downtown Memphis to the Lorraine Motel. It is where Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s life was taken nearly 50 years ago. The National Civil Rights Museum has preserved the room and the memories.
Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel is exactly the way it was on April 4th, 1968. The bed is made. The food tray is on the coffee table. The ashtray with a partially smoked cigarette is on the desk. As you peer into the hotel room, you see Dr. King’s surroundings during the final minutes of his life — frozen in time.
Dr. King stayed at the Lorraine Motel numerous times while visiting Memphis. In April 1968, he came to the city to support striking sanitation workers. On April 4th, he stepped onto the balcony outside room 306 to talk to friends in the parking lot below. He asked the saxophonist, Ben Branch, to play ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord’ at a rally that would be held that evening. As he turned to walk back into his room, a bullet struck him in the neck. He died instantly.
The Lorraine Motel, and later the National Civil Rights Museum, would forever be tied to his assassination.
But, the motel played an important role in the lives of African-Americans decades before King. In 1945, Walter and Loree Bailey bought the property, and they named it after Loree and the popular song by Nat King Cole, “Sweet Lorraine”.
The couple expanded the hotel by adding more guest rooms and drive-up access transforming it into a motel. Under the Bailey’s ownership, the Lorraine became a safe haven for Black travelers and visitors to Memphis.
Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, and Louis Armstrong were just a few of the famous guests. But none more famous than Dr. King.
Close your eyes and you can imagine the iconic Lorraine Motel sign. Two cars, from 50 years ago, parked in front and the large white wreath still hanging on the balcony outside room 306. Time stands still at the Lorraine Motel in tribute to the life and legacy of a civil rights legend who was gunned down on the balcony nearly 50 years ago.
After Dr. King’s assassination, Room 306 was never rented again.