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National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis to mark 54th anniversary of MLK assassination on Monday

On a recent sunny Monday afternoon in Memphis, locals and tourists alike lined up outside the National Civil Rights Museum, waiting their turn to explore the dozens of exhibits covering five centuries of history and culminating in one of the seminal events of the Civil Rights era: the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968.  

The museum, which opened in 1991 and completed a major expansion in 2014, will host a hybrid live and online event on April 4 – “Remembering MLK” – in commemoration of the 54thanniversary of King’s death.  

In the week leading up to the anniversary, parents from near and far brought children of all ages to experience the museum. 

Lyla Chambers, a Memphian and a regular visitor to the museum, brought her 4-year-old and 5-year-old sons with her for the first time. 

“There is only so much I can share with them as their mother, and what schools can teach them,” Chambers said, “I wanted to bring them to this museum because it does a great job of telling stories, with all the pictures and testimonies.” 

Chambers is also planning to attend the commemoration on Monday. 

“I am especially excited for my boys to experience the “Remembering MLK” event,” Chambers said. “They were very curious while we walked through the museum, asking questions and wanting their pictures taken with the statues.” 

Isabella Smith, a University of Memphis student majoring in American and African American Studies, said she also plans to attend the April 4 event with peers from her classes. 

“I am so excited to attend an event memorializing such a special day in African American history,” Smith said. “Although the actual events of the day are not so happy, the legacy MLK represents is so important for people to remember and study.” 

Karin Hudson of Memphis agreed that visiting the museum is an important education for her three children, but especially for her oldest daughter, who is 12. 

“She is getting up in age and really starting to understand where she comes from and some of the struggles that Black people have experienced,” Hudson said. “It’s also good, from her almost-teenage perspective, that she can kind of see some of the struggles that she goes through just because of being Black. And that people before her went through a whole lot more and fought for the rights she has.” 

While Hudson’s 3- and 5-year-olds were too young to engage fully with some of the museum’s exhibits, they did enjoy the many interactive elements interspersed throughout.  

“I think it was good with the visuals,” Hudson said. “We were able to get on the bus and the little ones asked about Rosa Parks and why she had to go to the back of the bus.”  

Museum visitors are invited to sit on the bus in The Rosa Parks Exhibit at the National Civil Rights Museum. Photo by Gracie Farquhar.

Hudson said it was an emotionally difficult lesson for her to teach them. 

“The part about being less human, that hits you – when it’s just about the color of your skin that you’re inferior, even though you have the qualities that you need to be a successful person –  that hits you in the heart,” Hudson said. “Because as an African American, all I want is for my kids to have good schools to go to, for my home to have a good value, to be successful. You know, to live what they call the American dream.” 

Cecelia Lewis of Indianapolis said some of the museum’s immersive exhibits on school desegregation and lunch counter sit-ins allowed her to show her daughter, Samoma Jones, some of the things she experienced growing up. 

“Me, I lived it,” Lewis said. “But for my daughter, she reads about it, and she won’t get the feeling that I get about how far we’ve come, but still how far we have to go. I want her to never forget the struggle, because we continue to struggle.”  

Jones said that being in Memphis did allow her to gain a different understanding of the civil rights movement.  

“I think it’s better for us to be able to see it,” Jones said. “It would be something else if we weren’t able to see it, it would be something totally different. Now I feel like I’m a part of it.”  

“Remembering MLK” will be a hybrid event. Dr. Leslie D. Callahan of St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Philadelphia will be the keynote speaker, and there will be performances by the W. Crimm Singers (aka The Wakanda Chorale), Iris Orchestra’s Artist Fellows, Memphis Symphony Orchestra and the University of Memphis Fellows as well.For more information or to register for the livestream link, visit www.civilrightsmuseum.org/april-4th-commemoration.  

UM Journalism students Gracie Farquhar, Eleanor Hoover, Grace Temple, Sophia Von Seebach, and Alyssa Moncrief contributed to this report. 

Adam Brown
Adam Brown
Sports Editor

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