Commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a Visit to the National Civil Rights Museum

When we asked Team Aira how they acknowledge Martin Luther King Day, we received a very enthusiastic recommendation from one of our agents. So we invited her to tell her story.

Living in Tennessee, I have had the pleasure of visiting the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis a couple of times. The NCRM is a Smithsonian Museum; and the Smithsonian is an Aira Access Partner, using Aira to explore the NCRM as well as their on-line content is free for Aira Explorers!  


Approaching the Lorraine Motel, which houses part of the National Civil Rights Museum, is like a step back in time. The first thing you see is a mid-century modern sign reminiscent of the 1950’s. A scripted black font inside a bright yellow oval reads “Lorraine” while the letters of motel are each inside their own white circles, written in a large red block font. Below that a traditional marquee style sign allows for messages to be changed depending on what is going on. A large red triangle is at the top above “Lorraine” and overlaps the vintage blue metal rectangle holding together the elements of the sign. The same fountain blue color continues on the two-story motel. As you walk past the building, you can see classic cars parked out front and a red and white wreath in front of the balcony of room 306. 


The main part of the Museum is attached to the motel and houses exhibits starting back 400 years ago up to present day. You can actually enter the bus where Rosa Parks took her famous stand. On the seat she refused to move from sits a statue representing her.  You can also read about other people who took similar stands and experience video footage of sit-ins from across the country. The Freedom Riders’ burnt bus and a Woolworth’s style lunch counter are also on display. It is very humbling and inspiring at the same time. Many exhibits are even interactive, playing video or audio along the way.  


As you walk past an old style garbage truck like the ones in 1968, another display has life size statues of men with signs reading “I AM A MAN”—the cry of the civil rights movement during the 1968 Sanitation Workers Strike. Slowly you pass through a somber hall with signs asking you to remain quiet and respectful, as you  enter the corridor between the cutouts of rooms 306 and 307. The rooms look just like they did when Martin Luther King Jr. stayed there, complete with dinner tray, rotary telephone, and an old television complete with “rabbit-ear” antenna. Displays recount King’s final hours and the legacy he left behind. The tour of the Lorraine Motel culminates in the gift shop, but the experience doesn’t end there.  


Next you make your way across the street to the rooming house where the fateful shot was fired. As you leave the Lorainne, a pronounced line on the ground marks the trajectory of the bullet that took Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life. An elevator takes you to the second floor where you can view the room it is believed that James Earl Ray was in while taking aim. The bathroom features the clawfoot tub he used to balance himself during the shoot. Also on display are other pieces of evidence of the crime as well as the Mustang Ray drove. If you fancy yourself a conspiracy theorist, there are not only dozens of actual pieces of evidence on display, but also outlines of the various conspiracy theories posed over the years.  


The Smithsonian’s National Civil Rights Museum is more than a building, it is an experience and one that I highly recommend. It is a step back in time in a way that no history book can truly convey. With an Aira Agent providing visual interpretation, everyone can be fully immersed in the exhibits. 


Thank you Agent Amanda. This level of description is exactly what you can expect from our professional visual interpreters. This museum also has an extensive on-line collection that you can explore at no-cost with an agent. Start your journey at https://civilrightsmuseumorg/exhibitions.


To get a sense of this visual interpreting experience, we recommend listening to these two pieces:


1. Audio recording and transcript of The Last Seven Days of Dr. King’s Life by Agent Caleb.


Transcript: Last Seven Days Transcript.


An embedded MP3 follows, it’s just under ten minutes.


2. A full replay of our January 2021 visit to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia, can be found here. The visit is about one hour long.