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‘Club Lorraine’ at the National Civil Rights Museum

I arrived early to Night at the Loraine – year three – at the National Civil Rights Museum last Saturday. Outside, tables were set up with fancy tablecloths. A band was setting up in preparation for a performance of songs particularly selected to move the expected crowd.

Inside, I found my way to the designated VIP room, where flashing wristbands signaled the special recognition. Those admitted were dressed to impress and clearly comfortable in an atmosphere designed for people to unwind.

After mixing, I made my way downstairs and then throughout the setup, encountering people from various walks of life gathered together to celebrate a historic cause with live music, silent auction, dancing, food and cocktails.

“Night at the Lorraine” spotlights the old Lorraine Motel, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed while standing on a balcony outside of room 306 on April 4, 1968. The National Civil Rights Museum encompasses the Lorraine.

The event was crafted to “fundraise with a party.”

A silent auction featured 50-plus items, including a chance to bid on vacation packages, art by Jamond Bullock, Southwest Airlines tickets and a Chef Phillip Ashley Rix private wine and chocolate tasting.

The goal was to raise at least $70,000, with the proceeds going directly to the museum.

The Lorraine was formerly the Marquette Hotel, which catered to African-American clientele in segregated Memphis. In 1945, businessman Walter Bailey bought the hotel and re-named it the Lorraine after his wife, Loree, and “Sweet Lorraine, ”popular jazz song.

The Lorraine became a destination for African Americans during a time when Jim Crow restrictions limited options for services and lodging.

#NightAtTheLorraine hit home for relatives of Walter and Loree Catherine Bailey.

“This event is very important to my family because my grandmother and grandfather were pioneers with creating The Lorraine Motel…,” said Carol L. Champion.

I asked Event Chairman Terrance O. Reed what excited him most about the outing.

“I’m most excited about the attendees – the people who bought tickets, and the VIP’s, the sponsors. I want them to have an amazing time. It’s fulfilling for me to witness them having the time of there life at the Lorraine Motel.”

With the museum dubbed Club Lorraine, guests enjoyed live music in different sections of the venue. Vocalist Karen Brown starred in one of the rooms. I spoke with her after rehearsal and before she went on stage.

“I am looking forward to the diversity that is going to be in this room,” Brown said. “This means a lot to me because of the meaning of the venue itself …  the history that is holds.”

The featured sponsors were FedEx and Ford Motor.

I wanted to get more of sense of the importance of the museum and the special nature of the event, so I approached Jeanette O’Bryant, event visioneer/project director. She talked about the connection with the Champion family and importance of “making sure people don’t forget all of the rich heritage that we have here.

“The thing that I enjoy about this event, it brings different people together of all colors and nationalities to the National Civil Rights museum to party, enjoy good food and good fellowship.”

(De Ja S. Simpson, a rising sophomore at East Tennessee State University, is an MPLOY Youth Summer Experience intern at The New Tri-State Defender.)

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