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Friday, January 16, 2015

The Lorraine Motel and the Vigil of Jacqueline Smith

It's Martin Luther King Jr. weekend in the United States.  What can I say about this man that hasn't been said already.  He is one of the greatest Heroes in all of the South as well as all of America.   I can't watch a speech of his without getting a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. While visiting Memphis, TN I knew that I had to visit the Lorraine Motel, where Doctor King was tragically shot dead.


The Lorraine Motel was an important landmark even before the tragic events the befell Dr. King.  In the segregated South it was one of the only upscale Motels in Memphis that catered to Black clientele.  

On April 4th, 1968 Dr. King was shot in the neck while standing in front of room 306.  The Lorraine Motel continued operation, but room 306 was left vacant ever since.  I wreath hangs in front of the room, marking the spot of Dr. King's death.


In 1988 the Lorraine Motel was closed down in order to convert it into the National Civil Rights Museum.   The last resident was one Jacqueline Smith, a housekeeper and long time resident, who barricaded herself in her room and had to be removed by law enforcement.  Despite being dragged from her room.  Jacqueline never really left.  Instead she set up camp on a street corner opposite the Museum, where she has sat for nearly 27 years.


Every day since she was evicted from the Motel she has help vigil for 21 hours a day calling for a boycott of the Civil Rights Museum.  She leaves only to find food and go to the bathroom.  All her possessions that are kept under a blue tarp.


Jacqueline believes that the facility should be used for helping the poor and needy, rather than a celebration of Dr. King's death.  She also believes that this traditionally black neighborhood has been gentrified to the point that it has driven away all the blacks and poor people and become a rich white neighborhood.

While I was there I was fascinated with Miss Smith and attempted to shoot video of myself talking to her.  She did not want to be video taped, which I found a little strange for someone who is trying to get their message out.  I was interested in talking to her about her beliefs, but honestly she acted very tired.  She handed me a xeroxed article on herself and often referred me to the handout when I asked her questions.  Honestly, I guess sitting in the same spot talking about the same thing for 27 years can make one weary, but I guess I just figured she would have a little more fire inside, given her unwavering dedication.  Honestly, she didn't see them enthusiastic about talking about herself.  She talked with me about the weather and even asked me if I had visited Graceland yet.  I asked her if she was ever harassed by the museum or authorities, which for some reason she was evasive about, simply stating "I'm still here."  I thanked her for her time and wished her luck.  Regardless of what her message is, I can appreciate this level of dedication.  As I walked away I noticed a Memphis Police Car hovering around her.


I do think that regardless of the incarnation that this site should be preserved in honor of Dr. King.  At the same time, celebrating Dr. King's life is indeed more important then focusing on his death.  Dr. King's talk of equality and justice should never be forgotten.

So let's wrap up this discussion Dr. King with a photo gallery of Wax MLKs from all the Wax Museums I have been to......






The Carpetbagger

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14 comments:

  1. this is 2018 where is this woman now? I met her years ago and she handed me some literature on her protest. I am curious to find out what happen to her. Any information on this lady Jacqueline Smith.

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    1. Hey guess what... I saw her yesterday she is still out there... her flyer read "30 years and 65 days"

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    2. She is still there, I saw and spoke with her yesterday, while visiting the Lorraine Motel

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  2. she is still there... seen a pic of her taken today

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  3. She is still there. I visited the musem yesterday and she is still there. Her sign read 30 years and 2 days. Amazing..

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  4. Is her cause on social media anywhere?

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    1. http://www.fulfillthedream.net/jacqueline-smith/

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  6. It's amazing that she is out here all of these years and with all the crime we have today in the world she has survived all of that and thus weather. so, the Lord has been with her for sure. Even though she's out there for her own particular and positive reasons, it would be nice to recognize her in a nice way. But she has to realize and understand that he's being recognized in a very positive way despite his death.

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    1. I think of her every year on MLK Day. We met and spoke with her in the early 90's when we visited Memphis.

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    2. I interviewed miss Smith in 1996 on video while passing through Mimphis. She seemed very intelligent and informed on the issues of the day. After speaking with her for nearly 30 minutes, I still wasnt quite clear on why she was there and what she was protesting. It would be nice to see her with a safe and comfortable place to live while continuing with her protest a few hours a day. What she's doing has to be very difficult on the mind, body and spirit. With all the money the Lorraine clearly has made over the years, I don't see why the corporation that owns the property couldn't see fit to give her a room at the hotel in the name and spirit of MLK. Profit over people is still the order of the day.

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    3. The computer misspelled Memphis!

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  7. I just spoke with her today ...still there 30 years and 95 days.

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