Side Trip -- Jacqueline Smith's personal, and private, crusade

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Terry Dean

Jacqueline Smith was a tenant at the Lorraine Motel in 1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed by an assassin's bullet at the Memphis motel. Smith stayed there for years even when few others would not. No one wanted to stay in Room 306 where Dr. King spent his last hours on earth. Few wanted to stay at the motel on 450 Mulberry St. at all. But not Smith. She stayed. She stayed up until the time the property was purchased by The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Foundation in 1982. Though my details are admittedly sketchy, sources close to the museum tried to fill in some of the blanks about the property deal, Smith's involvement in it, and her long opposition to the museum. A half block away and along the motel side of the museum, Smith sits daily at a table in a small area that occupies that corner on Mulberry Street. She's been there for about 14 years. I spotted her after leaving the Young and Morrow Building across the street where the shot supposedly came from. The museum purchased that property in 2001 and turned it into an extension of the museum. There she sat, wearing all black and with a black scarf covering her head and part of her face. Near her table, Smith had a sign stating that the museum was built on racism, along with other such slogans. She had on her table photos of Dr. King and of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Her website, fulfillthedream.net, was also displayed. It would be somewhat unfair to dismiss her as a flake. According to her site, and a long-time anonymous worker at the museum, Smith basically feels that millions of dollars have been wasted on the museum, money that should be put back into the community. On her site, Smith refers to the museum as a "Disney-style tourist attraction, which seems preoccupied with gaining financial success, rather than focussing on the real issues." "All in all," she continues, "the greatest criticism of the museum is that it dwells heavily on negativity and violence. Surely the underlying signals must portray hope and non-violence." Some might agree with her. Others will disagree. A group of the students and their chaperone, Juliza Robledo, a parents whose child was on the trip, felt she was entitled to her opinion. They too spotted her after leave the building across the street. They wandered over to hear Ms. Smith's side. Robledo said, "We asked her why she was doing what she was doing and she was very rude to the students. She said, 'you have to pay to here me. You paid them, so you have to pay me.'" The employee said Smith was working at the front desk at the time of King's visit to the Lorraine. She was a holdout as the property was attempted to be sold, the person said. According the employee, Smith was paid millions to leave, but this is not confirmed. The employee said that some of the properties surrounding the museum -- once slums and now are condos, office space and apartments -- are worth millions. Yet, some of the surrounding neighborhoods remain depleted of needed resources, and most residents are priced out of area, they said. "I can kind of agree with her on that," the employee said of Smith's stand.

Reader Comments

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michealluellen from g j tn  

Posted: October 2nd, 2014 12:25 PM

Miss Smith. Can protest all she want to but that right there ain't. Going to be moved i said it us April 4 babys

TED SMITH from ALBANY, NY  

Posted: April 12th, 2014 10:42 AM

MARTIN LUTHER KING WOULD HAVE BEEN HORRIFIED BY THE FACT THAT JACQUELINE SMITH WAS PUT OUT ON THE STREET!!!!!!

jasmine moore from memphis, tn  

Posted: June 18th, 2013 8:43 AM

i was down town yesterday visiting the civil rights muesum and i spoke with mrs smith after i saw her sitting n frunt of the place my grandmother told me all about her so i wanted 2 know her story and everythng that happened back then and i can honestly say that she's right about what the muesum and what it has come to. it was a waste of money and i believed that martin luther king wouldnt have wanted it to be this way

Pam Richey from Compton  

Posted: May 8th, 2013 7:18 PM

I , along with my companion, recently visited the civil rights museum, and we met and had a chance to speak with Ms Smith, and she is really amazing. It was really a blessing to hear her story and also know that saw was around during that time. It treally makes you think and feel that you were a part of the history as well.

len from baton rouge  

Posted: March 27th, 2013 10:34 PM

I spoke with Ms Smith today she stayed at the hotel for 11 years ,her room number was 303, and she feels the 27 millon should be used to help the poor and Living not spent on the dead . It really makes you think

Jayla Mccrary from St. Louis, MO  

Posted: March 21st, 2013 5:13 PM

I feel that! But me and my husband are going to memphis for our anniversary the motel will be the 1st stop.

shirley from fort worth  

Posted: March 2nd, 2013 6:01 PM

we saw Jackie on tues. nite 3/26/13 and it was very cold and she told my daughter about the motel and her crusade and I do agree with her on the purpose of the museum. MLK would not have wanted this for that purpose. may god bless you and keep you safe. I've read a lot of your articles and they are truly amazing and the mishaps that you've endured