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.

 

“She told me about her life experiences, what it was like being a teacher when the schools were integrated, and other topics. It was very insightful to see the world through someone else’s eyes.

“After interviewing my subject, I became excited to complete the project and share her perspective. It was almost as if the project was designed with her in mind; everything came together seamlessly once I had her input.”

Reporter Morgan Quinnelly

“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