“The National Civil Rights Museum is an iconic space in downtown Memphis,” says Kevin Woods, Memphis market president for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. “As a young college student, I was able to tour the space, and what stuck with me the most was the video and audio of young men and women of all races protesting the injustices of segregation and Jim Crow in the South.”
“These were young men and women close to my age. I was in college benefitting from the things they fought for,” he adds. “Being able to reflect on what they experienced and the courage they had to stand up and fight for what was right was very humbling and powerful. It showed me what was possible, even at a young age.”
BlueCross Healthy Places have always been about bringing people together — usually through opportunities for healthy activity, such as playgrounds, sports fields and fitness areas. But on May 16 in Memphis, the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation announced a partnership with the National Civil Rights Museum to create the BlueCross Healthy Place at Founders Park. This project is an exciting opportunity for the program and will bring people together for a new kind of shared experience.
The BlueCross Foundation is investing up to $9.6 million to reimagine Founders Park , the area directly across from the museum and the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
“The BlueCross Foundation is proud to partner with the National Civil Rights Museum on this reimagined space,” said Dalya Qualls White, executive director of the BlueCross Foundation. “With our investment, the BlueCross Healthy Place at Founders Park will enhance the visitor experience, strengthen the sense of community in the space and allow the museum to expand its programming for years to come.”
A look inside the National Civil Rights Museum
Established in 1991, the National Civil Rights Museum is housed inside the renovated Lorraine Motel building. Its collection includes 260 artifacts, more than 40 films and immersive exhibits. Each one educates visitors on civil rights in America, from the period of slavery through the Civil War to Jim Crow and the birth of the Civil Rights Movement — and beyond.
Highlights include an exhibit on the student sit-ins of 1960 with an original lunch counter, an overview of the 1961 Freedom Rides with a replica Greyhound Bus and a gallery dedicated to the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike, which brought Dr. King to the city.
Tours culminate with an overview of Dr. King’s last hours, including a look inside Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel, where he stayed on the night he was killed.
“The final exhibit on the museum tour, Dr. King’s room, is a moving moment for visitors, reminding them of the importance of his work and the significance of the space — as well as the sacrifices made throughout the Civil Rights Movement,” Kevin says.
Fostering a sense of place and community
Funding from the BlueCross Foundation will be used to install landscape architecture elements throughout Founders Park. These include:
- Water features
- Artwork installations
In addition to offering a place for reflection and contemplation, this additional infrastructure will allow the museum to connect with visitors in new ways. Currently, it is limited in the types of outdoor programming and engagement it can offer, but the BlueCross Healthy Place at Founders Park will provide a landscape for music and museum events, like the Ruby Bridges Reading Festival.
“The new Founders Park will draw people to be in community with each other,” says Dr. Russ Wigginton, president of the National Civil Rights Museum. “Today, the space is a thoroughfare, but the transformed park will be much more inviting and much more focused on people being in space outside together, whether they know each other or not, and they’ll associate the museum as the place that draws them together. It will be an amazing addition to a place that touches more than 300,000 people a year.”
The May 16 announcement also marked the official groundbreaking on the Founders Park project, and construction will begin soon.
To date, the BlueCross Foundation has invested $46.3 million in 22 projects across the state and is on track to invest $100 million in BlueCross Healthy Places.