Location: Memphis, Tennessee
Type of Venue: Off-site, museum
Nearby Accommodations: Westin Memphis Beale Street
Few museums incite an emotional response in their visitors. But the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, does exactly that. The museum opened in 1991 inside the historic Lorraine Motel, the site where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Over the years, the museum has transformed the once-somber site into a beacon of hope that shines a glowing light on the American civil rights movement.
The museum encourages visitors to gather in this historic space to learn and engage in civil rights history in order to better understand how this history impacts them today. It also provokes thoughtful conversations about the past, present and future of civil rights in the country and beyond. Beginning with slavery, the museum follows the tumultuous timeline of the American civil rights movement with videos, displays and historical items that showcase the realities of the movement, from the nonviolent protests to armed self-defense.
Interactive and immersive exhibits cover topics from slavery to black power, from voting rights to immigration, from Jim Crow to King’s last days at the Lorraine Motel. Visitors will also get the chance to know some civil rights activists whose names and stories aren’t widely known. They will be introduced to the men and women who made it their life’s work to make right the wrongs of injustice, including Bayard Rustin, Fannie Lou Hamer, John Lewis, Bob Moses, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland and thousands more who contributed greatly to the movement.
The civil rights movement has always been about uniting people, and the museum offers ample space for groups of various sizes to gather for meetings, events and celebrations. Along with regularly scheduled debates, book talks and speaker events, the museum welcomes in meeting groups with five dedicated spaces available for rent. Each space offers a new environment for groups, from a working theater to a conference hall with multiple possible configurations.
Among the meeting spaces at the National Civil Rights Museum are an operational theater with an alcove for live music and a grand hall with its own kitchen and prep area for caterers. The Hooks Hyde Hall can be divided into two areas, Hall A and Hall B, and features a flexible floor plan with audiovisual equipment and a kitchen and prep area; it holds up to 350 guests. Other spaces include the FedEx Atrium with an alcove for live music, for up to 100 guests; the State of Tennessee Gallery, for up to 100 guests; the Ford Motor Theatre Presentation, for up to 100 guests; and the Links Education Center, for up to 100 guests.
Although the National Civil Rights Museum does not offer culinary options for meeting groups, a few of the venues offer on-site kitchens and prep areas for groups to either prepare their own meals or bring in an outside caterer to prepare the meals on-site. The meeting and event staff is happy to provide a list of preferred caterers that offer a variety of cuisines, but catering will need to be secured by the meeting organizer. The museum allows alcohol as a part of the meetings or specials event, but meeting organizers are encouraged to discuss the specifics of the bar service with the museum’s meetings and events staff.
The biggest attraction for guests of events at the National Civil Rights Museum is the museum itself. Meeting groups can book tours of the museum for a discounted rate, and the experience can enhance the meeting by offering an authentic backdrop for diversity training and human resource workshops, or even just offer enlightenment for educational or social occasions. Visitors are encouraged to take a moment to reflect in the museum’s courtyard — with the Lorraine Motel marque sign on one side and the balcony where King died on the other — before moving inside for a journey through civil rights history.
The event spaces at the National Civil Rights Museum were recently renovated to feature state-of-the-art equipment and modern furnishings. Many of the rooms available for rent feature audio and visual equipment and even alcoves for live music; others, like the Links Education Center, offer a full library with desktop computers for groups looking to dig a little deeper into the history and roots of the American civil rights movement. The museum’s staff can also help arrange for engaging experiences for groups going through the museum, such as the lunch counter sit-in experience that puts visitors in the shoes of the nonviolent college students that helped change history in the 1960s.