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    Civil Rights Museum recruits historic additions for expanded exhibitions

    By Michael Lollar - The Commercial Appeal -

    The National Civil Rights Museum is looking ahead to its planned reopening in 2014 by soliciting nationwide for memorabilia related to black life and culture in the United States.

    The items would go into new or expanding exhibits, including one on the "separate-but-equal" Jim Crow laws that enforced segregation and began to go into effect in 1877 when U.S. troops were withdrawn from the South after the Civil War.

    Museum education curator Barbara Andrews said potential exhibit items donated so far include a 1942 "Travel Guide of Negro Hotels," a black leather jacket worn by a member of the Black Panther Party and a short-lived neighborhood newspaper called "The Liberator," which declared, "Our function is to give the other side of the story."

    The main part of the museum is scheduled to close in November to allow workers to complete a $27 million renovation and redesign around the Lorraine Motel, the centerpiece of the museum. A museum annex, across Mulberry Street from the main museum, will remain open during the construction process. The annex is devoted primarily to the investigation of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the arrest of James Earl Ray, but it also will serve as home to other exhibits during construction.

    Andrews said she is especially interested in military items worn by black soldiers in the Vietnam War, caps and gowns from historically black colleges and universities, items related to the Black Power movement and the march on Washington, and items used in everyday life including dashikis, hair picks and music-related items.

    Andrews said the 1942 guide to hotels was donated after collectors outside the Memphis area heard of the museum solicitation. The guide lists three Memphis hotels that welcomed black guests -- Hotel Clarke on Beale, Mitchell's Hotel on Hernando and Traveler's Hotel on Vance.

    Andrews said she may also be interested in copying sensitive or rare documents that owners are unwilling to donate. "If they're important, we may be willing to copy them if necessary."

    -- Michael Lollar: (901) 529-2793