Artifacts and Art Never Seen Before by the Public

The National Civil Rights Museum’s Interpretation, Collections and Education Department presents From the Vault, a blog to give visitors a peek into the museum’s collection of artifacts.  The Museum’s vault contains a myriad of objects, documents, paintings, and other items that the museum has acquired over the years. Some of the pieces in our collection have been purchased for the purposes of an exhibit, others are loans from another institution, and many are donations by everyday people.  Only a fraction of our total holdings are on display at any one time, and From the Vault will highlight rarely viewed items.

No matter how we acquire an artifact in collections, it is important to us as an institution to know the story behind it.  Who did it belong to?  What was it used for? Where was it made? How did it find its way to the National Civil Rights Museum? And perhaps most importantly, how will we be able to use this item to tell the story of the civil rights struggle?  The museum has sought to collect a wide-ranging group of artifacts to preserve the diverse history of the struggle for African-American Civil Rights.

Through this blog, we hope to give our supporters an inside look at the museum and its workings, and to encourage patrons to think about donating their historical pieces to our ever expanding collection.  Also, if you have items that you are considering to donate, please contact Raka Nandi, Collections Manager & Registrar at the National Civil Rights Museum.

Model Slave Cabin

Model Slave Cabin Among the interstingly novel artifacts in the National Civil Rights Museum’s collection is a model slave cabin donated to the museum along with figurines, furniture and accessories.  It was fashioned by the well-regarded dollhouse enthusiast Jacqueline Andrews of Ashland, Virginia.  In 1975, Barbara Grey commissioned Ms. Andrew to create these dolls and the house.  It was purchased by the Weaver family in 2004 who then donated it to the museum. ... Read More
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The Lorraine Motel Guest Book

By Raka Nandi Museum Collection Manager & Registrar     One of the unique collections housed at the National Civil Rights Museum is the Evidence Collection, related to the trial of Martin Luther King’s assassin James Earl Ray.  Among the 1,760 items in this collection is the Lorraine Motel guest book from 1968. In this book, Walter Bailey, the proprietor of the establishment, made note of all the guests who rented rooms at the Lorraine Motel. ... Read More
Posted by Connie Dyson at Thursday, February 7, 2019
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James H. Laue

Photographs taken at the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968, have indelibly etched our museum’s landmark in America’s collective memory.  These famous images were taken in the midst of the chaos that ensued after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot on the balcony outside Room 306.  In the first photo, Shelby County Sherriff’s Deputy Bill DuFour is speaking with three of King’s most recognizable aides, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, and Jesse Jackson, as they... Read More
at Thursday, June 28, 2018
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Letter to Coretta Scott King

The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968, caused shock throughout America.  His loss was mourned not only in our country, but throughout the whole world, and people’s reactions ran the gamut of emotions. Both civil rights organizers and the federal government urged citizens to exercise calm, but nevertheless, violence broke out in major cities across our nation. On April 7, Americans observed a national day of mourning.  Flags flew at half-staff to... Read More
at Friday, May 4, 2018
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Ben Branch

Musician Ben Branch was at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968. He had returned to his hometown at the behest of the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) and Dr. Martin Luther King to participate and play at an upcoming rally.  In an interview for the Library of Congress oral history project, Branch recollected his last conversation with the reverend.  King had asked Branch to play “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” at a rally later that day, as... Read More
at Thursday, March 29, 2018
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Lorraine Motel

For this month’s blog, I want to share two photographs from our Lorraine Motel archive collection .  The National Civil Rights Museum provides an engaging narrative of the civil rights struggle, but few know the story behind our most important artifact, the motel building itself.  In 1945, a local African American businessman, Walter Bailey (no relation to museum founder D’Army Bailey), purchased the Marquette Hotel on 450 Mulberry Street.  Bailey renamed the... Read More
Posted by Connie Dyson at Thursday, February 8, 2018
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Water Dippers

Jim Crow restrictions separated the races in America in every aspect of public life.  Restaurants, buses, trains, restrooms, theatres, water fountains and workplaces posted “White Only” and “Colored” signs to remind people of their place. These water dippers (circa 1940) were donated to the Civil Rights Museum in the memory of R.L. Bryant by Jim Gatling and Beverly O’Bryant Gilton.  They were found on the property of the Arkansas plumbing company... Read More
at Wednesday, December 20, 2017
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