A media ride and drive event in Memphis several years ago left me with some free time in the afternoon before heading to the airport to return home. My colleague and I were wondering how to pass a few hours, when he suggested we visit the Lorraine Motel, the assassination site of Martin Luther King, Jr. which now houses the National Civil Rights Museum. It was an eye-opening afternoon for me: I was raised in Hawthorne, California, in the 1970s, and grew up with the understanding that all us kids were the same -- even though I was a white girl and I was the minority among my own diverse peer group.
More than 40 years ago, on April 4, 1968, the Lorraine Motel was a small minority-owned business in the south end of downtown Memphis. The motel's owner, Walter Lane Bailey preserved two rooms of his hotel as a shrine to Dr. King as well as to his wife, Lorraine, who died of a brain hemorrhage several hours after King was shot. Ultimately, the hotel closed down, and group of prominent Memphians, concerned that the historic site would be destroyed through neglect and indifference, formed the Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation to save the Lorraine.
With support from the City of Memphis, Shelby County, the State of Tennessee, as well as many local banks, businesses, and community members, the National Civil Rights Museum opened its doors to visitors on September 29, 1991, and now houses a 12,800-square-foot exhibit titled "Exploring the Legacy." It also connects to the Main Street Rooming House across the street where James Earl Ray allegedly fired the fatal shot resulting in the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Each year, the National Civil Rights Museum provides a memorial program on Martin Luther King, Jr. day, with an entire day of programs and activities to inspire new generations of leaders to service.
On this day each year, I'm challenged to consider how this holiday is relevant to a woman's automotive site, and I'm reminded of what things were like for black people during the 1960s. I didn't live through the Civil Rights era, so my understanding of racisim and segregation is guided largely by what I learned in history classes, by what I experienced during the Los Angeles Riots of 1992, and by considering the moving exhibits at the museum.
The civil rights laws of the 1960s were intended to prohibit race and gender discrimination in the handful of markets -- employment, housing, and public accommodations -- in which discrimination was perceived to be particularly acute. According to Thomas J. Sugure in his Case Study titled "Driving While Black: The Car and Race Relations in Modern America" I am reminded that issues of transportation were especially significant.