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.


“When I first got this assignment, I was overwhelmed with excitement. I enjoy learning about history. Throughout the course of this assignment, my excitement intensified because I was able to basically relive the moments of history with Mrs. Davidson. It was better than reading a history book, because this experience was coming from someone I actually knew, and it felt real.

“Interviewing Mrs. Davidson was a great experience. She made sure that I was comfortable and never hungry. She was filled with joy. As she said, ‘My biggest blessing is that I am still enclosed in my right mind.’ With someone being 100 years of age, you would think that they would be settled in and not doing much moving, but Mrs. Davidson is a different story. She is a busy bee. After interviewing Mrs. Davidson, it just made me want to learn more about her life and the time period when she was younger. The excitement never left.”

Reporter Malia Carothers

“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