The Lorraine Motel, the site of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination, has had a long, uneven history. When the motel first opened in the 1920s, it was called “The Windsor.”
In that era of Jim Crow segregation, it was one of the few hotels that welcomed black travelers. Entertainers like Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan, and Louis Armstrong stayed at the Windsor and walked the few blocks to Beale Street. Walter Bailey bought the Windsor in 1942, and renamed it the Lorraine.
When Dr. King came to Memphis in 1968 to help the striking sanitation workers, he stayed at the Lorraine because it was black-owned and operated.
After his death, the Lorraine became a shrine, of sorts, but the building, and its surrounding neighborhood, slowly deteriorated. When the Lorraine went into foreclosure, concerned citizens formed the Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation. They raised $144,000, and, in December 1982, purchased the building at auction.
A contribution by the American Federation of State, County, and Muncipal workers; a WDIA fundraising drive; and a loan from Tri-State Bank helped save the historic building.