The Project

The Lorraine Motel was originally built in the 1920s and purchased by Walter and Loree Bailey in 1945. Walter Bailey renamed the business after his wife, Loree, and the song “Sweet Lorraine.”

On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who had come to Memphis to support a sanitation workers strike, stepped out on the balcony of the hotel in front of Room 306 to speak with friends. He was shot in the neck – assassinated – but he wasn’t the only one who died as a result of that bullet.

Loree Bailey, the motel’s namesake, had a stroke when she heard the shot fired and died April 9, the same day as King’s funeral (from The New Yorker). Perhaps her passing also marked the symbolic death of the Lorraine Motel, but it was later resurrected as the National Civil Rights Museum and now helps tell the story of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States from the 17th Century to present.

While this independent journalism project is not affiliated with the Memphis motel or museum, the project name was inspired by the motel’s place in history on the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s death. Featuring interviews with more than 30 people – some who have met and worked with King – reporters asked individuals to share their memories of April 4, 1968, and their thoughts about how King’s life and death has changed America.

 

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“I was actually surprised about the topic and found it interesting. As (the instructor) elaborated more about the project, I was ready to dive right into it. I had a person in mind instantly and couldn’t wait to really explore. Over the course of the project, it really opened my mind and eyes to see that history isn’t just recorded in textbooks … History is in the person sitting next to us – teachers, preachers, custodians, directors and so many other people.

“My thoughts did change after the interview because it made me really see that there are some people who refuse to actually make equality and unity real. We speak about it all the time. There are posters about it. There are television shows about it, but how many of us honestly practice these (ethics.) This project gave me the courage and challenged me to not wait on others, but take the initiative myself and show others that we are and will be better when we work together and honestly accept each other.”

Reporter T’Keyah Jones

“My thoughts about the project changed drastically after my interview. I realized how widespread the assassination was felt; it was not consolidated to the African American population in any sense.

“My time with Willingham allowed me to understand how this event molded the world that we see today. He shared with me his ideas on further breaking down the racial barriers in our society, and impressed that these were a continuation of King’s ideals.

“In my mind, this project changed from being about something isolated in the past to a topic that remains current and important in our modern world.”

Reporter Katherine Johnson