Today is the day we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. Dr. King’s actual birthday is January 15th (1929), but it is observed as a federal holiday around his birthday on the third Monday in January every year. The campaign for a federal holiday in King’s honor began soon after his death in 1968.  President Ronald Reagan signed it into law in 1983, and the holiday was first observed on January 20, 1986. Some states resisted observing the holiday at first and gave it different names or combined it with other holidays, but it was officially observed in all 50 U.S. states for the first time in 2000.

Dr. King was assassinated in my hometown of Memphis, TN on April 4, 1968. That day is one of my earliest childhood memories. I was shopping with my mother- for Easter stuff best I remember. I was two and the memories are pretty fuzzy, but what I do remember was the fear, panic, and sadness on my mom’s face and us leaving the store and rushing home. I remember being confused. My dad was stationed at the Naval base in Millington, TN- just outside of Memphis and they were shutting the gates and locking it down tight. The whole area was about to explode as rumors of riots were on the news.

After my sister Lisa was born in 1969 my dad got out of the navy and we moved to his home state of Utah. He got a construction job and we lived there for the next 7-8 years. My “Pop” (mom’s dad) passed away and we moved back to Memphis in 1977- the year of Elvis’ death, which I remember much more vividly. I was sitting in a hospital bed after having my appendix taken out. Growing up I was never taught that people were different because of the color of their skin. Granted, living in Utah it was pretty white, but even when we moved back to Memphis my parents never made race an issue.

It wasn’t until a few years later when I went to a Memphis City School and was the 1% white minority at the school that I was introduced to racism. I’d been the new kid at school a lot growing up- we had moved several times and had lived in some good parts of town, some not so good, and in “the hood”. At the end of my first day of the 7th grade at Graceland Jr. High I was slammed into a locker in the hallway and was told by a black student, “Don’t come back tomorrow, white-boy!” The kid was at least a head taller than me, and although the physical assault didn’t really hurt- his words scared the hell out of me. I ran home and told my mom about it. “I think they’re going to kill me! Why would they want to kill me?!” I asked and begged her to transfer me to some other school. She told me I couldn’t transfer (which was a good thing- the closest school was MUCH worse), and that I would have to go back the next day and face him. Mom and dad had always taught me to never start a fight, but if one comes to you don’t back down from it. I got into a few scraps from time to time, sometimes I won them, other times I didn’t. But I had never feared for my life, no matter how big they were or how small I was. But this was different, much different and I couldn’t understand why.

Well, since I’m tying this I guess it’s pretty clear to see I didn’t get killed the next day at school. I was scared and confused, but I did attend class that day- and nothing happened. The kid that threatened me acted nice to me the rest of the year, and I made new friends, black and white. I did see some fights because of race that year, and was almost in one when a friend was being bullied. 7th grade was my racism wake-up call and a sad lesson to learn but it was just one year of my life back in the late 70’s and I can’t imagine what it was like to be black just 10 years prior- or more. I have tried not to let that experience change me and what I had been taught by my parents, grandparents, and other teachers. There are times I wish our local politicians could be colorblind and/or would remember what folks like MLK were trying to teach us. I haven’t been in their shoes and don’t know what they went through growing up- black or white. I do know we can’t let it divide us today.

One of the positive things to come out of Dr. King’s death is the National Civil Rights Museum in downtown Memphis. I toured it several years back in the late 90’s when I went there twice for the M.A.R.S. (Memphis Area Radio Stations) Awards banquets. It was really amazing, and I wished I had more time to explore it while I was there. I really need to go back, especially since Nicki’s never been inside. We walked over while having lunch at The Arcade Restaurant earlier this month and taking pictures around downtown and the river. It was really strange to see the balcony where he stood, and to look back behind us and see where his friends were pointing after he was shot. Like I said, I had been there before but this time was different.

The museum is located inside the old Lorraine Motel where he was shot- a block east of Main Street and walking distance from Beale Street and the Mississippi River. There are stairs leading from Main Street down to the museum. You can see his hotel room (room 306) from the front. I noticed this last visit I thought more about what actually happened there. A murder, an assassination, a life taken. This was a historical site where someones life ended, and a legacy was born. A husband and father was taken away from his family and friends on this spot. That hadn’t hit me like that before. Maybe it was being there with my wife for the first time. I do wonder at times what she would do without me, or I without her. That time will come for one of us and it makes each day we do have together precious and limited. I do hope to have many more days like the one I had with her this day. I like being a tourist with her.

Inside the museum are exhibits such as the “I AM A MANSanitation Strike in Memphis, Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and other key moments in the civil rights movement. I really enjoyed the layouts of the exhibit. If you’re a Tennessee resident Monday from 3pm until closing is a free time to visit with a valid TN I.D. (some Mondays are excluded- see below). A section of Linden between Wagner and Danny Thomas Boulevard near the museum will be renamed after the civil rights leader. New street signs should be up later this spring according to the news report I saw last week.

The area around the museum has lots of other attractions, restaurants, and other things to see and do around downtown. I recommend checking out the Main Street Trolley. There is a 2.5-mile riverfront loop route that will take you down main in front of the National Civil Rights Museum, past the Orpheum Theatre and Beale Street, the Pyramid, Tennessee Welcome Center, down Riverside Drive and Tom Lee Park along the Mississippi River, and back to Main Street and the Arcade Restaurantand train station. There is also a River Arts Walk Festival each year in October, and a South Main Art Trolley Tour the last Friday of every month. That night South Main Arts District galleries, shops and restaurants are open for this unique art event from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. The special trolley is free between the Beale Street Stations and Central Station.

Even though I don’t currently live in Memphis, I still shop and visit there and it’ll always be home. It has it’s problems- man does it have it’s problems, but it also has a lot of potential. I enjoy what the city has to offer and try to find those special places around town. A lot of things have changed here in Memphis and the mid-south since Dr. King’s death over 40 years ago, and some things haven’t. We all have a long way to go to get to the promised land he spoke of, but I have faith we can make it there and hope we all live long enough to see it.

Now if you will excuse me I’m going to go have some cake.

Happy Birthday, Dr. King!



National Civil Rights Museum
450 Mulberry
Memphis, TN  38103


To book tours, schedule private meeting space, or schedule special events call: 901-521-9699, ext. 235

Hours of Operation

Closed EVERY Tuesday
Monday, Wednesday -Saturday  9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday  1 p.m. – 5 p.m.

* Free Period on Mondays (see below):  3 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Summer Hours (June 1 – August 31)

Closed EVERY Tuesday
Monday, Wednesday -Saturday  9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Free Period (Mondays):  3 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Sunday  1 p.m. – 6 p.m.

Holiday Closings:

Easter Sunday
Thanksgiving Day
Christmas Eve
Christmas Day
New Year’s Day


Adult $13.00
Seniors and Students w/ID – $11.00
Children 4-17 years  – $9.50
3 and under – Free
Members – Free
Free Period for TN residents w/ID  Mondays after 3 p.m.

 Free Period Policy*:

As The National Civil Rights Museum’s Community Commitment, we offer free admission Mondays from 3 p.m. until closing for Tennessee residents with state issued identification. Not applicable for tour groups & operators. This offer is NOT valid during nationally observed holidays and special events, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, President’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day and Columbus Day.

* Prices subject to change, please call for latest information.

Group tours of 20 or more are eligible for an admission discount if tour is booked a minimum of two (2) weeks in advance.

Recorded Audio Tour available for children and adults.
Headset Rental – $2.00.
Available in Spanish