National Civil Rights Museum completes $27.5 million renovation

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The Lorraine Motel in Memphis holds a historic place in world history.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated there on the hotel balcony near his room on April 4, 1968.

The site is now home to the National Civil Rights Museum and on Saturday, the museum will re-open to the public after $27.5 million of renovations.

“This museum after 22 years needed to be updated,” said Faith Morris, the museum’s director of marketing, governmental and community affairs. “[It] needed more technology, needed to be more engaging to a younger generation so that folks could really be a part of what the movement was about.”

The museum officially opened in 1991 and incorporates not only the historic motel, but the building across the street where James Earl Ray is alleged to have fired the fatal shot.

One new exhibit chronicles the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the economics of slavery in America from 1619-1861.  There is an entire exhibit space dedicated to the ‘Black Power’ movement and its influence on policy and culture.

Old exhibits have been enhanced with more audio/visual aids, touch screens and films touching on the different eras of the Civil Rights Movement.

Museum leadership said the renovations and fundraising efforts were critical to keep pace with the “2014 museum consumer.” The campaign to raise funds started in 2008 but because of the economic collapse, organizers regrouped in 2010 when conditions improved.

“People no longer want to walk through museums and experience a book on a wall,” said Beverly Robertson, the museum’s president. “When we opened in 1991, that was OK – because that was the museum experience. But times change. Technology changes.”

Robertson said it took “countless miracles” to raise the money and convince the museum’s board that the technological overhaul was necessary for the NCRM to thrive for many years to come. She said she is pleased with how well design teams, scholars, researchers and her staff adapted to the changing times.

“It’s a transformative experience,” Robertson said. “It’s an experience [visitors] won’t get anywhere else because it talks about the seminal events of the movement and it does it in ways that allows this history to resonate with those who are 8 years old or 80.”

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