Today being the day that Martin Luther King's birthday is observed, I thought it fitting to post some pictures of Lorraine Hotel. Initially the hotel had sixteen rooms and stood just east of the Mississippi River. It was first named the Windsor Hotel, and later the Marquette Hotel. Then, in 1945, Walter and Loree Bailey bought it and named it after Loree, as well as the popular song “Sweet Lorraine,” which artists including Rudy Vallée, Teddy Wilson, and Nat King Cole had recorded. The couple expanded the hotel by adding more guest rooms and drive-up access, transforming it into a motel.
Under the Baileys’ ownership, the Lorraine Motel became a safe haven for black travelers and visitors to Memphis. Given the motel’s proximity to Beale Street and Stax Records, black songwriters and musicians would stay at the Lorraine while they were recording in Memphis.
Martin Luther King, Jr., was the Lorraine Motel’s most famous guest. He stayed at the motel numerous times while visiting the city, and again in the spring of 1968, when he came to Memphis to support a strike by sanitation workers.
On April 4, 1968, he stepped out of Room 306 and talked to friends in the parking lot below.
As King turned to walk back into his room, a bullet struck him in the neck, taking his life instantly. Loree Bailey suffered a stroke when she heard the shot fired. She died on April 9th, the same day as King’s funeral. Walter Bailey continued to run the motel, but he never rented Room 306 again.
In 1982, Walter Bailey declared bankruptcy and stood by helplessly as his high-end establishment became a brothel. The Lorraine would have been sold at auction, but the Save the Lorraine organization bought it and decided to transform it into a museum.
The hotel is now the home of the National Civil Rights Museum. Filled with artifacts, films, oral histories, and interactive media, the exhibits guide visitors through five centuries of history, from slave resistance to the numerous protests of the American civil-rights movement.
Martin Luther King's room has been preserved to capture exactly what it looked like on that tragic night. There are two beds. (King was sharing the room with Dr. Ralph Abernathy, a friend.) King’s bed was not fully made because he was not feeling well and had been lying down. Dishes left in the room were from the kitchen where Loree Bailey prepared food for the motel’s guests.