From The Vault | National Civil Rights Museum


Artifacts and Art Never Seen Before by the Public

From the Vault Civil Rights Museum

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 for museum donation, please see our Artifacts Donations page or contact

From the Vault: Bayard Rustin – Strategist, Organizer, Unifier

As he approached the podium, Bayard Rustin was determined and elated. He expected about 100,000 marchers to converge at the Washington Monument on August 28, 1963. To his delight, approximately 250,000 people cheered as he listed the demands of the march. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom began after eight weeks of recruiting marchers, coordinating buses and marshals, scheduling speakers, and managing logistics. Despite Rustin’s critical role as the march’s chief organi... Read More

Honoring Jazz: An Early American Art Form

Honoring Jazz: an early American art form This post contains mature language. April is National Jazz Appreciation Month.  Jazz remains a highly celebrated art form and inspires artists in other genres to this day.  Jazz music had a critical role in the Civil Rights Movement and was integral to African American history. The music genre was born from the work songs of enslaved Black people during a time when community and self-expression were of the utmost importance. Centuries lat... Read More
at Wednesday, April 29, 2020

With Sympathy - Letters to the Lorraine

With Sympathy: Letters to the Lorraine Motel By Dr. Noelle Trent Director of Interpretation, Collections and Education In 2020, we respond to news and events within seconds on Social Media; however, in 1968 the American public responded to news and events through letters and telegrams. Letters and telegrams are written communications which required deliberate and intentional action. For a telegram, a person would develop a message, head to a telegraph office like Western Union where they w... Read More

John Lewis: Freedom Rider

In a 1961 strategy meeting, members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) gather in Alabama to discuss their next moves. Key among them is a young activist named John Lewis, a member of SNCC who had been attacked by the Ku Klux Klan in Rock Hill, South Carolina mere days before this photograph. The Freedom Rides were a critical moment in Lewis’ career, but they were not his first or last demonstration during the Civil Rights ... Read More

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. Th... Read More

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. Measuring app... Read More
Posted by Connie Dyson at Thursday, February 7, 2019

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 st... Read More
at Thursday, June 28, 2018

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 hon... Read More
at Friday, May 4, 2018

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 Branch&rsqu... Read More
at Thursday, March 29, 2018

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 establi... Read More
Posted by Connie Dyson at Thursday, February 8, 2018
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