Craig Hawkins and Wytisha Buckles brought their children to the National Civil Rights Museum as part of their observance of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. (Photo: Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell/The New Tri-State Defender)

Organizations and institutions all over the city honored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday (Jan. 17), the national holiday named for the civil rights icon and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

At the National Civil Rights Museum, over the course of the day, thousands tuned in to virtual tributes while others made the trek to the museum’s Downtown Memphis site.

Free admission into the museum was available all day.

A DJ on the stage in front of the museum played nostalgic music by artists such as James Brown and iconic groups that created the Motown sound of the 1970s.

The scene reflected Dr. King’s desire to see people of all races and creeds uniting under the banner of harmony and peace.

Lines stretched into the museum’s parking lot as families patiently waited to enter the historic edifice.

For many of those families, visiting the National Civil Rights Museum on the King holiday is a cherished rite, bringing local and regional visitors to the former Lorraine Motel, where King was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

The motel and museum are a sacred mecca of historic photos, exhibits and memorabilia that tell the story, not only of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, but also holds valuable lessons to youngsters.

Latoya Goodman and her daughter, Zariyah Wilkins, during their annual King Day visit. (Photo: Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell/The New Tri-State Defender)

Latoya Goodman and her daughter, Zariyah Wilkins, come to the museum on King Day every year.

“It’s important that we make sure our children don’t forget their history,” said Goodman. “Every year, we would bring my grandfather down here, and he enjoyed everything so much. Now that he is no longer with us, Zariyah and I still come here to learn and remember.”

Zariyah’s favorite exhibit is the 1950s-era public-transportation bus, where a cast figure of Rosa Parks sits. 

Zariyah knows well how Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus. Her arrest launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which nearly brought the public transit system in Montgomery to financial ruin within a year.

“I like getting on the bus,” said Zariyah. “That’s my favorite exhibit. I played Rosa Parks during our Black History play at school. I have also played Sojourner Truth. This year, I am playing Maya Angelou.”

For the budding actor, the museum is a place of inspiration, a place where she can try to imagine how each of those women felt when they were trying to make things better for “Black people,” she said. 

Zariyah has hopes of pursuing community theater to build up her resume of experience.

Craig Hawkins and Wytisha Buckles brought their children to the museum. 

For the three girls and one boy, the favorite exhibit, hands down, was the bus.

“Our children seem to really enjoy getting on that bus,” said Craig. “What they see gives us a chance to tell them the story about the exhibit and how things actually were back then.”

But for young, African-American children trying to wrap their heads around racial hatred, some exhibits and interactive displays are difficult to understand.

“I would say the lynching exhibit is probably the most difficult for Christian (his son) to see,” said Craig. “I don’t rush him past anything. I am there to help him understand and ask questions…” 

David L. Acey, executive director of the Africa In April Cultural Awareness Festival, Inc., and Yvonne B. Acey, associate director, during their visit to the National Civil Rights Museum on MLK Day 2022. (Photo: Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell/The New Tri-State Defender)

Africa in April Festival directors, Dr. David and Yvonne Acey, were also visiting the museum Monday. But for these “village elders,” visiting the museum on King Day is more a gesture of honor and respect for Dr. King than anything else.

“We participated in a virtual presentation for my school, LeMoyne-Owen College,” said Yvonne Acey. “And the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, my sorority, presented the school with a sizeable donation. That’s what we do. We are always showing up for service.”

The museum also announced emphasis this year on “Double V,” vaccines and voting, to address vaccine hesitancy and voter apathy, two issues that are particularly adverse for communities of color in the United States and globally. 

Through the Communities for Immunity project, the museum is sharing online resources and a survey to gauge response to the urgency of being vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

Canned goods were brought to the museum to benefit the Mid-South Food Bank.

The annual blood drive with Vitalant, a national nonprofit organization that collects blood from volunteer donors, continues to help with the blood shortage created by COVID treatment. Donors will receive a free admission pass for up to four people any day in 2022.

(For more information, visit the National Civil Rights Museum website at: www.civilrightsmuseum.org.)