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Judge Orders Eviction of Lorraine Motel Protester

July 14, 1990 GMT

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) _ A woman who has camped for two years in front of the motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated to protest turning it into a museum is under court order to move her tent.

But deputies probably won’t try to force her to move until Monday, an official said today.

Chancery Court Judge George Lewis told Jacqueline Smith on Friday she was trespassing and said he would send sheriff’s deputies to move her today if she failed to leave voluntarily.

Ms. Smith vowed to stay, saying the Lorraine Motel should be used as housing for the homeless. She repeated that promise this morning, saying, ″I’m sitting right here.″

Despite the judge’s statement, Shelby County deputies were not expected to enforce Lewis’ order until Monday, said Wes Newman, a dispatcher for the sheriff’s department.

″The information we have is the order has not been signed. It will be signed Monday morning and probably will be executed that same day,″ Newman said.

He added that sheriff’s department employees who serve civil court orders generally do not work on weekends and no one had been called in for special assigment.

The Lorraine is to become the centerpiece of a $9 million museum called the National Civil Rights Center, scheduled to open July 4, 1991.

King was assassinated at the small motel in 1968.

Ms. Smith, 39, a former employee and resident of the motel, was evicted from the Lorraine by sheriff’s deputies after it was shut down to make way for the museum.

The deputies deposited her on a sidewalk in front of motel March 2, 1988, and she has been there ever since.

Lewis issued his order for her to move on a petition from Jameson-Vaccaro Construction Co. Inc., the primary contractor for the museum.

Anthony Vaccaro, project manager for the museum, said Ms. Smith is camped in a spot that must be torn up for utility lines. The sidewalk she is sitting on also is to be removed, he said.

Ms. Smith has rejected requests to move her tent across the street, Vaccaro said.

Demolition work began at the Lorraine last year and several preliminary construction jobs have been completed on the 2-square-block project site. Lewis’ order against Ms. Smith covers the entire site.

Generally, museum developers have ignored Ms. Smith, but Vaccaro said she was in the way. He said he had to stop work for several days because of her.

Vaccaro said his company faces fines of up to $2,500 a day if the museum is not finished on schedule.

The Lorraine, which was a popular stopping place for blacks when Memphis hotels were segregated, was falling apart in 1982 when a group of concerned citizens bought it at a foreclosure auction.

The group formed the Lorraine Civil Rights Museum Foundation and spent the next several years convincing state and local officials to build the museum.

Title to the property was turned over to the state.