Taking the Kids to Memphis National Civil Rights Museum

Taking the Kids to Memphis National Civil Rights Museum pin

Less than ten minutes walking distance from the city’s heart and music filled Beale Street stands the Lorraine Motel.
Unfortunately, the place would have probably stayed unknown to most if it hadn’t been for the fateful April 4, 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr., was shot and killed while standing on its second story balcony.

The Memphis National Civil Rights Museum located in the converted motel salvaged from tear down in the 1980’s showcases fascinating displays. These displays involve both the murder of Dr. King and the evolution of the African-American civil rights movement from the early 1800s to this day.

 Taking the Kids to Memphis National Civil Rights Museum motel balcony

Know before you go

The museum encompasses one of the most comprehensive collections about the civil rights movement. Also, a visit will range between two to four hours.
Many of the displays are interactive and involve video and audio clips of the era. However, a visit still requires quite a bit of reading and walking. Therefore, we don’t recommend the museum for kids under the age of six.

National Civil Rights Museum entrance

Before visiting, you should introduce your children to the civil rights movement to help promote their understanding of the museum displays. As we mentioned, the museum sits within walking distance of the city’s main thoroughfare. It is also part of the up and coming south central area with food venues and galleries.

National Civil Rights Museum intro

We visited on a weekend day with only a few scores of fellow visitors. However, we were told this is a favorite spot for school kids that tour on weekdays.

You may want to buy tickets online if you don’t wish to wait in line. Also, make sure you ask for a student discount for your kids.
There is a comprehensive safety check at the entrance to the museum. Unfortunately, this station includes bag checking so make sure to explain it to your children with autism ahead of time.

Memphis National Civil Rights Museum slave ship

The National Civil Rights Museum Exhibits

The museum starts appropriately with a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, who led India’s nationalist movement and influenced Dr. King’s lifetime philosophy of non-violent protest.

Next, a room dedicated to the early origin of the African-Americans struggle for equal treatment describes the slaves brought from Africa and the harsh conditions they lived through.

Taking the Kids to Memphis National Civil Rights Museum diner table

Make sure you don’t skip the well crafted 15-minute movie. This video introduces the topic to visitors and explains what the movement was fighting.

The emphasis ultimately shifts to the turbulent 1950’s and 60’s. In addition, the museum details key events like the integration of Central High School in Arkansas, the sit-in movements, the famous march from Selma, and the Million Man March on Washington D.C.

Taking the Kids to Memphis National Civil Rights Museum bus seat

Moreover, to help visitors understand Jim Crow, the museum has an actual white only diner area. It is also complete with ‘do not sit here’ menus and a replica of the Rosa Parks 1955 bus with a statue of her sitting in her historic seat.

Taking the Kids to Memphis National Civil Rights Museum rosa parks bus

The Greyhound Bus

The replica of burnt out Greyhound bus carrying the Freedom Riders passengers attacked during Mother’s Day in 1961 in rural Alabama is a powerful reminder of how polarized opinions and violence impacted the struggle.

The bus was pelted with rocks and bricks and had a firebomb thrown in through a smashed window. Furthermore, the doors were barricaded from the outside. It would have been impossible for the trapped passengers to escape if the State Troopers hadn’t interceded.

Taking the Kids to Memphis National Civil Rights Museum freedom riders

From this point (with a brief interruption that shows the Black movement in the 70’s), the museum follows Dr. King’s path. The museum also includes his historic “I have a dream” speech in Washington D.C leading up to the 1968 garbage workers strike that brought him to Memphis.

Taking the Kids to Memphis National Civil Rights Museum strike

The Highlight

Visitors should see the motel room where Dr. King stayed on the night of his assassination (check out the cigarette butts and snack by the bed) as well as a replica of the room he typically stayed in during other visits. Just like all other displays in this meticulously curated museum, this exhibit is thought-provoking.

Taking the Kids to Memphis National Civil Rights Museum bedroom
The Second Part

By now, you and your kids might be exhausted from the sheer volume of walking and plethora of historical information provided.

National Civil Rights Museum second part

However, if you wish to learn more about the actual assassination, visitors should visit the second part of the museum. This section also includes the different conspiracy theories and the life of Dr. King’s killer. We also recommend this section for older kids, as the younger ones might get bored and lost in the details.

First, you’ll see the former boarding house, the location used by James Earl Ray to shoot Dr. King. Today, this structure is a museum.

Taking the Kids to Memphis National Civil Rights Museum MLK killer car

The two levels of this section feature several exhibits filled with evidence that lead to the conviction. These items include a rifle, a pistol, and even the killer’s car.

Apart from the actual room left precisely in the same condition from 1968 (check out the wire used to turn off the room lighting) and the bathroom, you can visually measure the distance yourself in an area glass wall created for that particular purpose.

National Civil Rights Museum MLK killer room


Autism Travel Tips 

  • The museum is wheelchair-accessible. It is also indoors and fully air-conditioned.
  • You can stop and sit down on chairs or benches to rest at any point.
  • Taking the Kids to Memphis National Civil Rights Museum seventies musicThe museum houses many exhibits and sees lots of crowds. Therefore, make sure you visit late in the day or on weekends.
  • The museum features interactive displays with multiple places to listen to more detailed accounts of the events for those who desire a more in-depth view.
  • Our son with autism enjoyed the 70’s soul music area where you can listen to era songs via headphones.
  • Taking the Kids to Memphis National Civil Rights Museum postersThe souvenir stores in both museums carry various education materials to continue the conversation past the initial museum visit.
  • We saw several eateries outside the museum. We also saw a free public bocce court for kids who get antsy.
  • Make sure you take a selfie with the I AM MAN colorful mural down the street.

Memphis National Civil Rights Museum mural

Disclaimer: Special thanks to the Memphis Bureau of Commerce that provided us with complimentary tickets to the museum for the review.
However, the tips and opinions shared are always our own.

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