Crowds gather downtown ahead of MLK50 commemoration

Downtown businesses brace for MLK50 crowds

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - It is a big moment in the nation's history.

More and more people packed Downtown Memphis throughout the day Monday. Some are in town all week, others wanted to visit before Wednesday's commemoration.

"It's just about reflection about where we've been and where we are today," said Brenda Wimberly from Shreveport, Louisiana.

Wimberly is one of many visitors to Memphis who stood in a continually growing line at the National Civil Rights Museum on Monday.

Wimberly is in town with a choir that will be performing in memory of Dr. King.

"It's a mark of history," Wimberly said. "It's just a mark of where we've come from and where we can look to the future."

Wimberly and the others who graced these doors didn't have to pay admission. Memphis-based FedEx picked up the tab for the day, meaning entrance for all was free.

"I don't think our kids nowadays realize how many people had to fight to be in the same community in the same classroom," Memphian Stacey Johnson said.

Johnson brought her childhood friend Bonte and her family, who lives in Australia, to the museum as well.

They planned this trip to Memphis two years ago, and they said being here for the anniversary is simply a coincidence.

"To be here for the 50th anniversary is just stunning, I can't believe it," relative Jill Jones said. "The struggle is just overwhelming to think that people had to go through that to live a normal life and have equal rights."

Monday, Memphis Police Department stepped up security. MPD deployed a chopper, mounted patrols, and police cars at nearly every intersection around the museum.

It's the beginning of a week that will mean so much to so many.

"The significance of being here at this moment is something that I will always treasure and it's a moment in time that I couldn't recapture," said Anita Arnold from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

MPD's heightened presence near the National Civil Rights Museum will continue through Thursday.

"Today we are completely staffed, same for tomorrow and Wednesday, and I believe Thursday as well," said Arcade restaurant manager Elise Hubbard.

Hubbard said business was steady Monday, and they're expecting a crowd as the week continues.

The Arcade is the city's oldest restaurant, open since 1919 then as a 24-hour diner. The first time it closed was after Dr. King was assassinated in 1968.

"That was actually the first time our doors were ever locked," Hubbard said.

Major roads will be shut down for MLK50 from midnight on Tuesday until midnight on Thursday. That includes parts of Second Street, GE Patterson, and a busy portion of South Main.

The National Civil Rights Museum is providing free parking with a shuttle at FedExForum's Toyota garage.

However, it is expected to quickly fill up and with roads closed, parking in the area will likely be a challenge.

"We do hope to do a lot of rentals. There are Airbnb's here on this block and also hotels within a mile walking distance, so we will have a lot of foot traffic I hope," said Hal Mabray with Peddler Bike Shop.

Mabray said he's keeping his bike shop open Tuesday and Wednesday despite the closure of South Main in front of it. He said he hopes the commemoration stays peaceful.

"It makes me a little nervous, I hope everything goes smoothly," Mabray said.

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