“I’ve been to the mountaintop…” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke these words the day before he was assassinated, seemingly expressing the premonition that his life was nearing an end. Undoubtedly, this expression not only causes one to reflect on Dr. King’s life and principles, but also spurs introspection into our own lives. Have we seen our own proverbial mountaintops? If the end were near, could we look back on our lives and feel that we, too, had reached the mountaintop. On this episode of The Axiom Amnesia Theory, Heit & Cheri acknowledge today (April 4th) as the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., sharing thoughts and experiences from their recent visit to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN.

Topics discussed include Heit & Cheri’s first-hand account of their visit to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, museum exhibits, cultural and historical significance of the museum, what it was like to actually visit the place where MLK was struck down, renovation of the museum to update the technology, Jacqueline Smith’s protest of the museum and gentrification in downtown Memphis, why people should visit the museum, and more!

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  • 45 years ago today (April 4th), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in Memphis (allegedly by James Earl Ray), TN–shot at the Lorraine Motel.
  • Last weekend, we took a trip to Memphis and visited the Lorraine Motel–the cite of what is now the National Civil Rights Museum.
  • People know a lot about MLK and his activism, but many people don’t know why he was in Memphis, so we’ll talk about that first, then discuss our visit to the historic site where he was killed.
  • Why was Dr. King in Memphis?

    During a heavy rainstorm in Memphis on February 1, 1968, two black sanitation workers had been crushed to death when the compactor mechanism of the trash truck was accidentally triggered. On the same day in a separate incident also related to the inclement weather, 22 black sewer workers had been sent home without pay while their white supervisors were retained for the day with pay. About two weeks later, on February 12, more than 1,100 of a possible 1,300 black sanitation workers began a strike for job safety, better wages and benefits, and union recognition. Mayor Henry Loeb, unsympathetic to most of the workers’ demands, was especially opposed to the union. Black and white civic groups in Memphis tried to resolve the conflict, but the mayor held fast to his position […]

    King agreed to lend his support to the sanitation workers, spoke at a rally in Memphis March 18, and promised to lead the large march and work stoppage planned for later in the month.

    Unfortunately the demonstration on March 28 turned sour when a group of rowdy students at the tail end of the long parade of demonstrators used the signs they carried to break windows of businesses. Looting ensued. The march was halted, the demonstrators dispersed, and King was safely escorted from the scene. About 60 people had been injured, and one young man, a looter, was killed. This episode prompted the city of Memphis to bring a formal complaint in the District Court against King, Hosea Williams, James Bevel, James Orange, Ralph Abernathy, and Bernard Lee, King’s associates in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

    The outbreak of violence deeply distressed King. In the next few days he and fellow SCLC leaders negotiated with the disagreeing factions in Memphis. When assured of their unity and commitment to nonviolence, King came back for another march, at first scheduled for April 5. In the meantime, U.S. District Court Judge Bailey Brown granted the city of Memphis a temporary restraining order against King and his associates. But the SCLC’s planning and training for a peaceful demonstration had intensified. Lawson and Andrew Young, representing the SCLC, met with the judge April 4 and worked out a broad agreement for the march to proceed April 8. The details of the agreement would be put into place the next day, April 5.

    This was the message that Young conveyed to King as they were getting ready to go out to dinner. Moments later, on that evening of April 4, 1968, as King stepped out of his motel room to join his colleagues for dinner, he was assassinated.
    Source: National Archives

  • Discussion about the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop…” speech. It seems that many people believe that he had a premonition or realize that they are targeted for assassination. When you listen to this speech, it seems pretty apparent that he was aware of the fact that he would probably not live long.

    (Watch the full speech here.)
  • Discussion about how King fought for more than integration. he fought for rqual and adequate housing, working conditions, anti-war, and poverty in general.
  • lorraine motel memphis national civil rights museum

  • When you first arrive at the Lorraine Motel, you see the bright sign that we’ve probably all seen before.
  • The museum is divided into two sides across the street from one another. One side is essentially the assassination museum, where you can see all of the artifacts from the circumstances surrounding the event. The other side is the Lorraine Motel. Unfortunately, the Lorraine Motel side is under renovation until 2014, so you could only see into MLK’s room and the one beside it from the balcony of the motel.
  • There is a lot to read at the assassination museum side.
  • Discussion about what the boarding house, where James Earl Ray is said to have taken his shot, looked like. You can actually see the room and bathroom as it looked that day.
  • Discussion about all of the different artifacts displayed at the museum–things like James Earl Ray’s rifle, bed linens from the boarding room, etc.
  • One of the reasons that the museum is being renovated is to update the exhibits with better technology to capture a new generation of people who want to learn about the historical site.
  • Discussion about information that the museum’s Lead Tour Guide Ziara Smith shared with us about the museum. Since the Lorraine Motel was the main attraction of the museum prior to the renovation, more people are visiting the boarding house side of the museum. They are learning more about history as a result of the other side being closed for renovations.
  • Discussion about the conspiracy theories related to MLK’s murder. There are tons of questions about whether James Earl Ray was the one who really did it. The museum actually explores some of these theories. They lay out all of the evidence, and let you decide for yourself about what happened.
  • The day we visited, there were a variety of people visiting.
  • Even though the Lorraine Motel side of the museum was closed, we were still able to look through the windows while standing on the balcony. The actual place is a lot smaller than it looks on TV and in photos. Also, the place where James Earl Ray is said to have shot from isn’t that far away.
  • There are two cars from 1968 still left in front of the motel.
  • Discussion about what the outside of the motel looked like.
  • It was amazing to look through the window into the motel room where MLK slept. It was a modest room, but had much better accommodations than the boarding house across the street.
  • Discussion about the awkward position that James Earl Ray would have had to be in to take the shot at MLK.
  • mlk balconymlk balcony shot

  • Discussion about what it felt like to stand in the place where this tragic history took place. We’ve all seen the pictures of MLK on that balcony.
  • We’ve also seen the pics of his companions pointing in the direction from whence they say the shot came. But, to actually stand in that place yourself is a unique experience…
  • Discussion about the solemn mood and experience at the close of the Lorraine Motel tour. Some people find it very emotional.
  • One thing you don’t get is the overall atmosphere of the 1960s at that time in history.
  • Jacqueline Smith protesting at National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel

  • Discussion about Jacqueline Smith, a woman who has been protesting in front of the National Civil Rights Museum for over 25 years.
  • Smith asks why $27 million was spent on renovating the museum when there are people who are in need and could use the money for better purposes.
  • She is also fighting gentrification of the downtown area. She explains that this would not be what MLK would want.
  • AP
    Published: March 03, 1988

    Four sheriff’s deputies today evicted the last resident of the Lorraine Motel, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated 20 years ago.

    Jacqueline Smith, who has lived at the motel for 11 years, had been protesting attempts to build an $8.8 million museum at the site. She refused to obey an eviction order, arguing that the project would force poor people out of the neighborhood.

    ”You people are making a mistake,” a sobbing Miss Smith said as four Shelby County deputies carried her from the balcony outside her second-floor room to the sidewalk.

    Miss Smith had been defying an eviction order since Jan. 11, when the motel was closed by state officials directing the museum project. She ignored a Feb. 8 deadline to move out. […]

    Before the deputies arrived, Miss Smith talked to reporters and other spectators through an eight-foot chain link fence that was put up around the site Jan. 11. ”My family is here and I have a home, but that’s not what I want,” she said. ”If I can’t live at The Lorraine, I’ll camp out on the sidewalk out front.”

    Randy Wade, an administrative assistant for the Shelby County sheriff’s office, said deputies used a tire iron to force open the door to Miss Smith’s room.
    Source: New York Times / AP

  • Jacqueline Smith protesting at National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine MotelJacqueline Smith protesting at National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel

  • Discussion about $27 million being spent on the renovations at the museum. People say that the area being renovated was already a wonderful experience. The implication is that a renovation of this magnitude may not have been necessary.
  • Discussion about all of the historical information at the museum being the only way that people who were not alive during the Civil Rights era can experience the events–through other peoples’ memories. As we talk about the future generations, updating the technology will hopefully help to engage a new generation of people.
  • At a minimum, every school-aged child within a few hours of Memphis should visit this museum. It should be part of the curriculum.
  • If you get a chance, you should visit the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. It is set to reopen after renovations in 2014. For more information, please visit their website.
  • Heit & Cheri would like to thank Lead Tour Guide Ziara Smith and Marketing and Communications Coordinator Connie Dyson, who helped make the visit possible and allowed us to get the most out of the museum experience.
  • We would also like to send a special thanks to our Memphis hosts, Toni & Reo, who provided excellent accommodations for us and were excellent tour guides.

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