Alexander in Memphis: Lorraine Motel to Be Second Site in New U.S. Civil Rights Network

Posted on March 2, 2018


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MEMPHIS, Tenn., March 2, 2018 – United States Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today spoke at the 2018 Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage at the Mason Temple in Memphis, where he said the Lorraine Motel will be the second site in the U.S. Civil Rights Network.


“Last year, I introduced with Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) legislation to create the U.S. Civil Rights Network, and it is now law,” Alexander said. “Today, the Lorraine Motel in Memphis will become the second site in the U.S. Civil Rights Network. I thank Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for granting my request to include the Lorraine Motel in the U.S. Civil Rights Network, and I’m working with Secretary Zinke to also make the Mason Temple a site in that network.”


“The Lorraine Motel, as the home of the National Civil Rights Museum, helps tell the story of the civil rights movement and the people and events that shaped the country we inhabit today," Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said. "The U.S. Civil Rights Network we've established under President Trump demonstrates our commitment to continue telling these stories for generations to come. I'm grateful to Senator Alexander for his support of the African American Civil Rights Network Act and for nominating the Lorraine Motel. I'm honored to designate it as the second site within the Civil Rights Network. I look forward to continuing to share the rich history of civil rights in America through our national parks and monuments." 


The African American Civil Rights Network Act of 2017 created a national network facilitated by the National Park Service of existing federal, state, local and privately owned sites that have been found to be significant to the Civil Rights movement. The legislation would allow the National Park Service to form partnerships with existing entities included within the U.S. Civil Rights Network to provide technical assistance on preservation and interpretation of the Civil Rights movement. On February 1, Secretary Zinke designated the first site in the network. The Lorraine Motel will be the second site included in the network.


Today, Alexander spoke at the Mason Temple in Memphis as a part of the Faith and Politics Institute’s 2018 Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage – an event to commemorate the Civil Rights movement and recognize the 50th anniversary of the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 


Alexander continued: “My first address in the United States Senate was about the importance of helping our children learn United States History so they grow up knowing what it means to be American, and there is no more essential part of understanding American history than understanding our struggle with race. The Memphis sanitation workers' strike and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., put Memphis at the center of the Civil Rights struggle in 1968, and it's important that we remember and understand that as part of our history.


“That’s why I introduced a resolution with several senators commemorating the 50thanniversary of the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and I’m glad the Senate passed the resolution this week.”


Earlier this month, Senators Alexander, Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Doug Jones (D-Ala.) introduced the resolution to recognize this historic event in the Civil Rights movement. The Senate passed the resolution on February 28.


In 1968, 1,300 African-American sanitation workers in Memphis struck in order to protest working conditions—there was a history of discrimination in pay and benefits and hazardous working conditions. On February 12, 1968, the workers went on strike, demanding recognition of the union and increased pay. On April 3, 1968, Dr. King addressed a rally of 10,000 African-American workers and residents, members of the clergy, and union members at Mason Temple, the Memphis headquarters of the Church of God in Christ. On April 29, 2011, the 1,300 sanitation workers were inducted into the Department of Labor’s Labor Hall of Honor.


Alexander concluded, “When I first got involved in politics fifty years ago and began to travel across the state, I met a number of the young men and women in Memphis who were involved in the sanitation workers' strike and the Civil Rights movement, and I've watched their – and our country’s -- progress over the years. It's a very encouraging sight.


“I've seen enormous change in the everyday lives of African Americans, and I've seen the election of an African American president of the United States, large numbers of African American legislators and mayors. I've watched Willie Herenton from Memphis go from holding a sign that says, ‘I am a man,’ to being elected to sit behind the desk of the mayor he protested back in 1968. I’ve seen George Brown who in his first year of law practice in 1968 go from being appointed one of two black non-voting advisors to the all-white school board to being elected to the school board in 1971, and I then appointed him as the first African American justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court.


“The struggle for race is not a snapshot – it is a panorama. I remember very well what Reverend Ben Hooks from Memphis -- who was head of the NAACP -- used to say, ‘You need to remember that American is a work in progress,’ and there is no better example of a work in progress than the change in the lives of young men and women like Willie Herenton and George Brown since the sanitation workers' strike and Dr. King’s assassination 50 years ago. All of us that have lived these 50 years celebrate that our country has come a long way, but we also know that we have a long way still to go.”


Alexander was in Memphis last week and attended the launch of the United States Civil Rights Trail in Tennessee with Governor Haslam. The U.S. Civil Rights Trail will recognize the sites that played an important role in the Civil Rights movement. The trail includes more than 100 sites in 14 different states and includes 10 sites in Tennessee.