For many people, the International Blues Challenge will be your first visit to Memphis, TN. I used to spend a lot of time in Memphis, so I thought I would take a little time to be your personal tour guide. You’ll be spending a lot of time on Beale Street, but you may be asking yourself, “What do I do during the day?”. I thought over the next seven days I would highlight some of my favorite spots in the city.
The first place I would recommend is the National Civil Rights Museum. From my point of view, if you can’t visit any other place while you are in Memphis, go there. This is such an incredible place, I suggest anyone with a heartbeat should visit it at least once. I have never been to a place that is so transformative. If you open yourself up to the story that’s told inside, you will emerge a different person.
The museum is housed in the Lorraine Motel, the location where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It also includes the boarding house where James Earl Ray stood in a bathtub, slid a rifle through a jimmied windowsill and killed the civil rights leader. As you come around the corner, you will see the balcony upon which King was standing when he was shot. To me, I feel like I am walking onto sacred ground when I see that view. Across the street from the museum is the boarding house where James Earl Ray was standing when he shot Rev. King. If you look closely, you can see the windowsill on one of the upper story windows raised slightly. It was through that window that James Earl Ray slid his rifle.
The museum tells the story of the struggle for freedom in the United States. It’s a powerful story in which heroes arise from every demographic: black and white, men and women, young and old, rich and poor. After all, the civil rights struggle wasn’t about black and white; it was about right and wrong.
I have been through the museum probably 50 to 60 times. Each time I learn something new about myself and about our history.
You can take as much time as you like when you go through. I’ve known some people who spend all day. Personally, I think for the first time through if you spend two hours on the motel side and 30 minutes to an hour on the boarding house side, you’ll have an incredible experience.
While you are there, stop to talk to Jacqueline Smith before you leave. She has been outside protesting the existence of the museum since it opened. It’s great to get different points of view and hers is fascinating.
If you are in Memphis, take the time to visit this national treasure. You’ll be glad you did.
For more information, here is their website: http://civilrightsmuseum.org/
How to get there: The museum is a short trolley ride from Beale Street. It’s easy to get to.
- The Arcade Restaurant is nearby. It is Memphis’ oldest restaurant. Many movies have had scenes filmed there.
- Cheesecake Corner is also nearby. The person who owns it specializes in cheesecake. It’s all he makes and it is tasty!