On the road to the Lorraine Motel in Memphis

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Some places have become famous thanks to an appearance in a movie or quoted in a song of an international artist. The Lorraine Motel is not one of those places famous thanks to pop culture. The Lorraine Motel was a refuge from this.

The Lorraine Motel, witness to a tragedy

Located at 450 Mulberry Street in Memphis, the Lorraine Motel became infamous around the world on April 4, 1968. Date on which the pastor and non-violent activist Martin Luther King was assassinated. To this day, a huge wreath marks the spot where the famous leader of the American civil rights movement fell after a shot was fired by James Earl Ray. A plaque is also affixed there to recall the sad event.

Martin Luther King tribute plaque - Wikimedia Commons photo by Chris Light
Martin Luther King tribute plaque – Wikimedia Commons photo by Chris Light

The murder of Martin Luther King sparked a widespread wave of race riots, marches around the world and allegations of conspiracies. Many believe that the U.S. government participated in the plan to assassinate the Nobel Peace Prize winner and used James Earl Ray as a pawn. A theory widely used in fictions such as The Bishop’s Pawn by Steve Berry.

The beginnings of a hotel like no other

The Lorraine Motel has thus become famous for this tragic event. Yet the establishment had been entrenched in pop culture for a long time. As early as 1925, a hotel stood on this site, then called the Windsor, then the Marquette. In 1945, businessman Walter Bailer bought it and renamed it the Lorraine to echo the name of his wife, Loree and the song Sweet Lorraine by Cliff Burwell and Mitchell Parish. A song taken up in particular by Teddy Wilson, Frank Sinatra or Nat King Cole.

The Lorraine Motel was immediately listed in the “Green Book”. This book was created in 1936 by a postal worker whose name cannot be invented, Victor Hugo Green. The guide listed businesses, motels, gas stations and other establishments where segregation laws were not enforced. This way, African-Americans knew where to go without fear of discrimination. The Lorraine Motel was one of the mainstays in Memphis.

For many years, the facility was a haven for African-Americans, both famous and not-so-famous. The rooms of the establishment have seen such great artists as Ray Charles, Lionel Hampton, B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, Louis Armstrong, Ethel Waters, Otis Redding, The Staple Singers and Nat King Cole.

Places that inspire

Of course, seeing so many artists parade around could only inspire others. It is thus naturally between the walls of the Lorraine Motel that were composed In The Midnight Hour of Wilson Pickett and Knock on Wood of Eddie Floyd. More recently, the series Bluff City Law made a stop there for an episode.

National Civil Rights Museum - Photo Wikimedia Commons by Antony-22
National Civil Rights Museum – Photo Wikimedia Commons by Antony-22

Today the motel has lost its hotel function but has become much more. The walls of 450 Mulberry Street house the National Civil Rights Museum. A nearly two-hour stroll through the history of civil rights in the United States. Visitors can discover the history of slavery, the bus in which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, a truck and statues of the Memphis garbage collectors during the nine-week strike of 1968, a copy of the famous “Green Book” and photos and documents from the period. The Lorraine Motel, a place where history and pop culture are intimately linked.

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By Damien Duarte

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Passionné par la culture pop depuis son enfance, ses références vont de Donald Duck à Batman en passant par Marty McFly. Fantripper dans l'âme, voyager sur les traces de Ghostbusters, James Bond ou des héros de romans comme Cotton Malone fait partie d'un séjour idéal et réussi !

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