National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis plans ‘transformative’ expansion and renovation

Taking a cue from the title of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final book, “Where Do We Go from Here?,” National Civil Rights Museum officials Tuesday announced an ambitious and “transformative” multimillion dollar renovation and expansion of its property on the west side of Mulberry Street, across from the main “Lorraine Motel” museum building and the preserved balcony where King was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

Architect Juan Self, who has been involved in every phase of the museum’s design since its opening in 1991, said the expanded exhibit space and enhanced “civic plaza” aspect of its redesigned park would maintain the museum’s status as “a place for truth-telling… no matter how uncomfortable,” at a time when some politicians and pundits want to discourage frank discussions about the country’s racial heritage.

Dr. Russell T. Wigginton Jr., museum president, called the project “a transformative moment” in the history of an institution that has attempted to honor King’s legacy by being “a catalyst for social change.”

Russ Wigginton, president of the National Civil Rights Museum, speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for the renovation of the museum's Legacy Building and Founders Park on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, in Memphis.

Scheduled for completion in 2025, the project will include what Self — a founder of Self+Tucker Architects — called a “top to bottom” renovation of the Legacy Building, the three-story (including basement level) former Main Street boarding house from which James Earl Ray shot King. That fateful room will be preserved, but the building’s exhibit spaces otherwise will be redesigned.

This artist's rendering shows a view looking south down Mulberry, with the "Lorraine Motel" original National Civil Rights Museum building on the right and the planned expanded and redesigned Legacy Building and "BlueCross Healthy Place at Founders Park" on the left.

Meanwhile, Founders Park, which connects Main Street to Mulberry with an eastward slope of lawn and short flights of steps, will be entirely redesigned and transformed into the “BlueCross Healthy Place at Founders Park,” thanks to a $9.6 million donation by the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation (which has financed other “Healthy Places” across the state). The new park will be more visitor-friendly, with some seating areas, a space for performances and screen projection, water features, artwork installations, and other enhancements.

Despite the improvements, the park will remain unfenced and open, 24 hours a day. “There won’t be any gates here,” Self said. “We were adamant about that. Even though it’s private property, it’s a public space.”

An artist's rendering of the proposed redesign of Founders Park, which will be known as the BlueCross Healthy Place at Founders Park; the view is toward the east, with the preserved Lorraine Motel facade of the National Civil Rights Museum facing the park.

Other major contributors to the museum renovation include Boeing, which contributed $1.35 million through its Global Engagement initiative, and the state of Tennessee, which added $10 million through Tourist Development.

Wigginton said the contributions are part of a $50 million capital campaign program intended to amplify the museum’s endowment for educational programs and special exhibits, in addition to covering the cost of design and construction.

The museum’s announcement occurred Tuesday morning at an event for donors, politicians, board members, media representatives and other so-called influencers, who gathered beneath a tent erected on Mulberry while recordings by Booker T. & the MG’s played through the sound system. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland echoed Wigginton in citing the title of King’s book, “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” “It’s an important question,” he said. “For this country and for this city.”

This article was originally published at “commercialappeal.com”
You might also be interested in: Museums in Memphis TN: A list of Memphis Museums

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