The Memphis civil rights museum was once a motel that catered to famous musicians. But it became the site of a national tragedy when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968.
The city is home to some of the most famous music and food in the US. But it’s also a city with a fascinating and important story.
The Memphis civil rights museum welcomes visitors who want to learn about this crucial part of American history. Today we’ll dive deeper into the city’s rich history.
Let’s check it out!
About The National Civil Rights Museum
Located in Memphis, Tennessee, the National Civil Rights Museum opened in 1991. It showcases artifacts, exhibits, and other memorabilia from the era.
This location originally opened in 1925 as the Windsorlorrine Hotel. But in the 1940s, it started operating as the Lorraine Motel. It was a popular inn for Black musicians who came to make records. Some of its most famous guests included Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding.
However, its best-known guest was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The icon was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968. Walter Bailey, the hotel’s owner, decided to transform the site into a monument to the past.
Since the early 1990s, this Memphis civil rights museum has educated visitors on the history of the American movement. It’s recognized as a Smithsonian Affiliate and a location in the National Register of Historic Places.
Where Is The National Civil Rights Museum?
The National Civil Rights Museum sits near the Mississippi River in the South Main District. Known as the Birthplace of Rock and Roll and the Home of the Blues, Memphis is Tennessee’s second-biggest city after Nashville.
This town is a hub for art and music. Nearly 20 percent of the earliest Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees came from here and the surrounding area. Beale Street continues to be a haven for live blues bands and performers. And every year, thousands of Elvis fans visit Graceland, the beautiful mansion where the King once lived.
It isn’t just a music destination but a food destination too. The city boasts its own original style of barbecue and hosts the annual World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. It’s also the home of the Memphis Grizzlies, one of the most successful basketball teams in the NBA.
Can You Visit Slave Haven and The National Civil Rights Museum on the Same Day?
The National Civil Rights Museum isn’t the only place in Memphis to learn about the movement. The Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum is also a compelling site with an incredible history.
This museum resides on the Burkle Estate, a 19th-century home owned by German immigrant Jacob Burkle. Burkle believed in the anti-slavery movement and offered the home to people traveling along the Underground Railroad. He even outfitted the house with secret rooms, passages, and trapdoors for added protection.
Visitors can tour Slave Haven and explore the secret rooms where enslaved people hid. It also features artifacts, exhibits, and historical replicas.
You can visit both in one day if you have three hours to spare. Tours at Slave Haven take about one hour to complete, while the National Civil Rights Museum tour takes about 1.5 hours.
Pro Tip: Spend the night at one of these 5 Best Free Camping Spots in Tennessee.
Best Hikes Near Memphis
While planning your visit to the Memphis civil rights museums, take some time to explore nature, too. In addition to its powerful history, Bluff City offers scenic hikes and walking trails.
Tour De Wolf Trail
Tour De Wolf Trail is a moderately difficult loop trail just east of Memphis. The rustic dirt path runs through forests and fields past several serene lakes, offering beautiful views. This six-mile route takes most hikers about two hours to finish.
Tour De Wolf is a popular area for horseback riders, mountain bikers, and fishermen. This loop is open all year, and you can visit anytime. Kids are welcome on the trail, as are leashed pets. If your pup needs a break from walking, check out the leash-free dog park along the path.
Big River Crossing
Big River Crossing offers a breathtaking view of the Mississippi River. This pedestrian path runs 2.5 miles out and back and is perfect for walking, running, and cycling. It’s also the longest bridge in the country to cross the mighty Mississippi.
Big River Crossing is an easy route that takes under one hour to explore. Kids and leashed pets are both welcome on this paved path. This trail is also fully accessible for folks with mobility aids. And everyone will enjoy the color-changing LED lights on the bridge!
Pro Tip: Check out these 7 Amazing Waterfalls in Tennessee after your visit to the Civil Rights Museum.
Best Camping Near Memphis
There’s so much to explore on a trip to Memphis’s civil rights museums. And there’s plenty of nearby camping if you need a place to rest your head.
We’ve found a couple of the best campgrounds in the area.
T.O. Fuller State Park Campground
Named for the Black pastor and civic leader T.O. Fuller, this campground is 9.5 miles from the National Civil Rights Museum. It features 45 campsites, full and partial hookups, and free water. Other onsite amenities include restrooms, a dump station, laundry facilities, and showers.
T.O. Fuller State Park Campground also offers visitors a swimming pool and picnic tables. There’s also a nearby hiking trail for anyone exploring the state park. Pets are welcome, so bring your furry friends! Reservations start at $35 per night.
Tom Sawyer’s RV Park
Tom Sawyer’s RV Park is only 9 miles from the National Civil Rights Museum. This campground is clean and well-maintained and offers scenic views of the Mississippi River. You’ll find over 121 paved and gravel campsites with full hookups, onsite tables, and trash service. Other amenities include restrooms, showers, laundry facilities, and a self-serve RV wash.
Fishing, outdoor games, hiking trails, and canoeing are all available. Tom Sawyer’s also provides WiFi and ice for its guests. Pets are welcome, but there are some breed restrictions, so check with management before bringing pets. Nightly rates range from $29 to $59.
Is a Road Trip to Memphis Worth It?
This Tennessee metropolis is bursting with art, culture, and food. And exploring its history is a whole adventure on its own. Bluff City’s plentiful hiking and camping options are perfect for travelers of any age. Whether you plan to visit Memphis civil rights museums or simply enjoy the city, a trip should be on every RVer’s bucket list.
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