The Lorraine Motel in Memphis has played an important role in African-American history. Many black celebrities stayed at the Lorraine before the 1968 assasination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. The Lorraine became an integral part of the Civil Rights Movement. It is now the home of the National Civil Rights Museum. Here is the story of the Lorraine Motel.
The Windsor Hotel, at the corner of Mulberry Street and Huling Avenue near downtown Memphis, opened in the 1920s. Walter and Loree Bailey purchased the Windsor in 1942 and re-named it the Lorraine Hotel.
In the days of legal segregation, the Windsor / Lorraine was one of the few hotels in Memphis open to black guests. Its location, walking distance from Beale Street, the main street of Memphis’ black community, made it attractive to visiting celebrities. When Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, or Nat Cole, came to town, they stayed at the Lorraine.
Later, an annex, typical in design of motels built along America’s new Interstates in the 1960s, was added behind the original mustard-yellow brick hotel.
In March 1968, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King visited Memphis to support the city’s striking garbage collectors. He checked into the Lorraine, and led a march that, despite his policy of non-violence. turned violent. A second march was then planned.
On April 3, in a speech at Memphis Mason Temple, Dr. King said “We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountain top. I won't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life.”
Dr. King was assassinated at the Lorraine the next night, as he stood on the balcony outside room 306, on the motel’s second floor.
The official account of the shooting named a single assassin, James Earl Ray, who fired one shot from the top floor of a rooming house whose rear windows overlooked the motel.