365 Things to Do in Memphis #16: Observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Posted by Holly Whitfield | January 12th 2021 7661 0

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is on Monday, January 18th, 2021. It’s a chance to reflect, honor, and celebrate Dr. King’s legacy.

Assignment #16 on our 365 Things To Do In Memphis list is to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in Memphis.

There are a plenty of ways to observe MLK Day in Memphis.

1. Volunteer your time
Usually, Memphis organizations coordinate volunteer efforts so the community can get involved. In 2021, Volunteer Memphis will MLK Days of Service, with dozens of projects going on Jan. 14-18. Sign up here.

2. National Civil Rights Museum’s Virtual Celebrations
The NCRM will host online celebrations for MLK Day on Jan. 18th at noon and 6 p.m. with musical performances, speakers, a children’s book reading, and more. You can tune in on the museum’s website or on Facebook Live for either time. At this time, the museum is temporarily closed due to COVID.

More about the National Civil Rights Museum
The NCRM is perhaps the most important attraction in Memphis. In terms of history and the city’s role in the worldwide struggle for civil rights, it’s a must-visit for visitors and locals alike. After its renovation and reopening in 2014, the NCRM does an even better job of telling that story with immersive, multimedia, and interactive exhibits that focus on the people behind a movement that continues today.

The museum is located at the Lorraine Motel in the South Main neighborhood of downtown Memphis. It is free to observe the plaza and the balcony where Dr. King was standing when he was killed.

Photo by Andrea Zucker.

3. Stop by the Mason Temple (930 Mason Street)
This is where Dr. King delivered the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech on the night before his assassination. You can read the speech or listen to a recording of Dr. King giving the speech here. For MLK Day in Memphis, make a stop to look at the building. It is currently the world headquarters for the Church of God In Christ. Be sure to be respectful and social distance.

I AM A MAN Plaza at Clayborn Temple. Photo by Logan Young.

4. Visit The I AM A MAN Plaza at Clayborn Temple (280 Hernando Street)
The “I AM A MAN” plaza, which is adjacent to Clayborn Temple across the street from FedExForum. If you haven’t been since it was installed in 2018, I encourage you to take a quiet moment and visit. It honors the people of the 1968 Sanitation Workers Strike, the people who Dr. King traveled to Memphis to support before his assassination. Read a bit more here. While the space is outdoors, there may be more people than usual there for the holiday, so wear a mask and be sure to social distance.

5. Take a Quick Visit MLK Reflection Park (2nd and MLK Ave.)
Opened as a part of MLK50 (the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination in 2018) this park in downtown Memphis is home to the “I Have Been To The Mountaintop” sculpture, water features, and historical panels. It is only a block or two away from the National Civil Rights Museum and Clayborn Temple.

6. Memphis Grizzlies MLK Celebration Day
The Grizz almost always host a special MLK game and host other associated events, awards, and panels. In 2021, the annual MLK Day Celebration and Game is at FedExForum on Monday, Jan. 18 at 4 p.m. against the Phoenix Suns. The team will honor NBA and WNBA greats Ray Allen, Nneka Ogwumike and Kenny Smith.

7. Take a Tour of Possibilities
While you may not be able to take this guided driving tour of the city on MLK Weekend, you should certainly add “A Tour of Possibilities” to your Memphis bucket list. The passionate, entertaining Carolyn Michael Banks aka “Queen” will serve as your guide to several civil rights and African American points of interest around the city. Everyone is welcome on her tours, where she provides plenty of historic and musical context for each stop and the city in general.

How will you observe and celebrate Martin Luther King Day in Memphis this year? What does the holiday mean to you? Let me know in the comments.

Show Comments


  1. Kinsey P says:

    Wow I did not realize the Civil rights museum was free on MLK day! That’s incredible. What a privilege for Memphians to have access to such an important museum. I’m so thankful for MLK’s impact on our world.

    • Holly Whitfield says:

      Pretty awesome, isn’t it? Did you know that “Tennessee residents with state-issued ID may visit the museum for free on Mondays from 3 p.m. until closing.”

      (Not applicable for tour groups and operators. Not available on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, April 4th, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day or Veterans’ Day.)

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