Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

April 5, 2014

National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis reopens

AP
Greensburg Daily News

---- — National Civil Rights Museum reopens

MEMPHIS, TENN. — One of the first exhibits visitors see at the newly renovated National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis displays statues of shackled and branded black men, sitting in a line with knees near their chins, on the deck of a creaking slave ship headed across an ocean.

The powerful, visceral exhibit sets the tone for an evocative, newly immersive museum experience that chronicles the history of the civil rights struggle in America.

The main section of the museum is set to reopen April 5, the day after the 46th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in Memphis. King was killed on April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of the old Lorraine Motel, which was later converted into the museum in downtown Memphis.

The museum, which first opened in 1991, is now ready to show off new, emotionally hard-hitting exhibits and flashy, informative interactive displays. The museum says it attracts 200,000 people every year, but organizers hope the renovations will attract more visitors.

“The museum will be transformed into an even more compelling presentation of the iconic exhibits, oral histories of lesser-known civil rights foot soldiers and visceral, in-the-moment experiences,” said Beverly Robertson, the museum’s president.

Most of the museum closed for renovation in November 2012, except for some exhibits across the street. The improvements cost about $27.5 million, with the money raised through a fundraising campaign. The museum assembled a group of scholars who not only made sure the information is historically accurate, but also ensured that the most telling details of the civil rights movement were included.

Museum officials said an upgrade of the interior of the building and the exhibits was needed. The result is a gleaming, more spacious lobby and exhibits that require much less standing around and reading. Changes include a new educational center and refurbished gift shop.

The museum retained its most popular exhibits, such as a replica of the bus in Montgomery, Ala., that Rosa Parks rode, complete with a statue of her and the bus driver. But the Montgomery bus boycott exhibit has been upgraded to add strikingly detailed statues of three women walking next to the bus.

But the Memphis museum stands out because it is located on the site where King was killed by James Earl Ray. Visitors standing under the balcony can see the slightly-open window where Ray fired his rifle shot from the boardinghouse across the street. It’s a sobering and chilling experience.