Tentative lease reached for Memphis Civil Rights Museum - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Tentative lease reached for Memphis Civil Rights Museum

Associated Press Writer

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - The state reached a tentative new management agreement Friday with the private foundation that runs the civil rights museum on the site of Martin Luther King Jr. assassination.

The agreement, a 20-year lease, requires the foundation to "address concerns" of critics who argue its board of directors has too few black members and is too closely tied to big business.

How those concerns are to be dealt with was not spelled out.

The agreement was reached by museum managers and the staff of the State Building Commission which must give it a final approval before the end of the year. It would take effect on Jan. 1.

D'Army Bailey, a Memphis judge and leading critic of museum management, said the agreement "is a movement in the right direction."

Benjamin Hooks, chairman of the museum board and a former national director of the NAACP who last month was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, said the foundation is willing to talk with the critics about the 32-member board's makeup as well as other concerns, such as complaints about museum maintenance.

"I don't think that's a problem at all. We have always worked with the community," Hooks said. "I think we've done a good job, but just about anything that's done can be done better."

The foundation originally asked for a lease of 40 to 50 years, but critics argued that would amount to a complete takeover and leave the public with no say in how the museum is managed.

The lease agreement also calls for annual financial audits and closer supervision of the Memphis museum by the Tennessee State Museum. 

The museum is built around the old Lorraine Motel where King was shot by an assassin in 1968. It opened in 1991 and is run by the Lorraine Civil Rights Museum Foundation, a private nonprofit organization.

Critics contend the board, which is currently 50 percent black, should have more civil rights activists as members and be at least two-thirds black. The museum lists 12 board members as representatives of large corporations, including FedEx, AutoZone and International Paper.

Led by a group called the Lorraine Civil Rights Museum Community Oversight Committee, critics have scheduled a protest march and rally Dec. 8, with Martin Luther King III, Al Sharpton and other nationally known activists expected to take part.

The event will "emphasize our concerns that the museum be in the hands of the African-American community and be guided by the current voices of the African-American community," Bailey said. 

Some 200,000 people a year visit the museum which chronicles the struggle for civil rights in America with much of the focus on the movement led by King in the 1950s and 1960s.

Local and state government spent $10 million to build the museum, and the state owns the former motel, which houses the main exhibits. The foundation has doubled the size of the museum, largely through private donations.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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