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National Civil Right Museum is sobering and inspiring

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In Memphis, you should not miss the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel, site of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. It re-opened in April 2014 after a $27.5 million restoration. The museum chronicles key elements in the American Civil Rights Movement and includes immersive environments. I crouched in the confined spaces of a slave ship, sat in a court room and watched the landmark Supreme Court Brown vs. Board of Education decision, sat behind Rosa Parks on a segregated bus, and sang along with protesters from the interior of an Albany, Georgia, church.

Black and white photos of "No coloreds" signs and segregated water fountains and waiting rooms gave me serious jolts. I am old enough to remember those signs when they were just "life" in the South.

Dr. King’s Lorraine Hotel room has been preserved as it was when he lost his life on the balcony. Stubbed out cigarettes, half-eaten chicken dinner, and open suitcase are in a room so humble I was reminded of Gandhi. Across the street, the rooming house where the assassin, James Earl Ray, lived displays his run-down room with a dirty, sagging mattress, disgusting shared bathroom, and the window where he made the fatal shot. The museum is both sobering and inspiring with these shameful parts of our history locked in time as we go forth to live our lives in a more enlightened world.

King's dream became a reality for many of us, but as a society we have more work to do. The museum will help us continue to move forward by reminding us of the many sacrifices made in the struggle to awake from the nightmare.

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