The iconic Joseph Louw photo is unforgettable. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lay on the second floor balcony while his aides point in the direction of his assassin’s position. Whatever his intentions, James Earl Ray’s bullet only served to heighten the national awareness of the civil rights movement and forever change the Lorraine Motel. Today, the Lorraine Motel (earlier called the Lorraine Hotel) serves as the National Civil Rights Museum.
When I learned that Nicki planned to do her first year of hospital rotations in Memphis, I planned on visiting the Lorraine Motel. While unloading her furniture in an alley behind her building, I spoke to a cook named Jack who was taking a cigarette break. He mentioned that the Lorraine Motel was only a few blocks from Nicki’s loft apartment. We stopped by the Lorraine Motel 2 days later.
The Lorraine Motel appears much as it did at the time of the April, 1968 assassination. A ’59 Dodge and a ’68 Cadillac are parked below the balcony where similar models were parked at the time of the shooting. A wreath hangs from the balcony rail near the place where Dr. King fell. The museum also includes the red brick boarding house from which James Earl Ray took his shot. The entire scene is an incredibly sobering and powerful reminder of the racial hatred that Dr. King peacefully protested against.
Nicki and I stopped in the museum store where she purchased a few books and a picture. We talked about the struggles that people of other races have endured. As young as she is, she’s keenly aware that racial discrimination still exists, and that there’s still work to be done. To paraphrase Dr. King, I can hope for a time when people “… can live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” It’s hard to imagine a more powerful sentiment.