Ralph Applebaum Associates

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National Civil Rights Museum

Memphis, Tennessee

The National Civil Rights Museum is a 12,800-square-foot expansion that connects the former Lorraine Motel, site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, with the boardinghouse where James Earl Ray allegedly fired the fatal shots. A newly built tunnel links the existing museum building with the expansion building across the street. Positioned underground, the tunnel is symbolic of death and the grave. The exhibit within it recalls the world’s reaction just after Dr. King’s death, the funeral, and the movement’s struggle to continue in the weeks following the assassination.

RAA left the Boarding House bathroom and adjoining rooms untouched except for minimal graphics and text on the glass window into King’s Lorraine Motel room. New interpretive exhibits were created to tell the story of the assassination through eyewitness accounts, trial transcripts, and Shelby County Criminal Court Clerk evidence materials, now part of the museum’s artifact collection.

The exhibits communicate and contextualize the historic, tragic, and controversial events in a clear, concise, and reverent way. A key message of the exhibition is that the Civil Rights Movement did not end in 1968 with Dr. King’s death, it continued through everyday people who took a stand on civil rights issues.

Size 12,800 square feet

Year 2002

AwardsIndustrial Designers Society of America (IDSA), International Design Excellence Award (IDEA): Bronze. EnvironmentsSEGD Global Design Award: Merit Award, Exhibition Design/Museum Environments

Photography Albert Vecerka/Esto