Five black people have sued the city of Memphis, Tennessee, and the owners of Elvis Presley’s Graceland alleging they were barred from a candlelight vigil at the mansion last summer based solely on their race.
The alleged incident occurred during an annual service held at Presley’s former Memphis home on Aug. 16, the anniversary of the singer’s death. Last year, it coincided with a demonstration outside Graceland to protest police shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota.
The federal lawsuit said one of the plaintiffs, the Rev. Earle Fisher, went to Graceland to attend the vigil but was denied entrance by police under the assumption he was a protester.
A second plaintiff, Habiba-Charline Tramel, was asked to leave the grounds after she said: “Black lives matter” in a “non-threatening matter,” according to the lawsuit filed on Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee.
The lawsuit, which also named Presley’s estate, said Elvis Presley Enterprises, the owner of Graceland, directed city police to allow only white people into the vigil, denying the black attendees equal access.
“The plaintiffs were subjected to discriminatory treatment on the basis of their race in a place of public accommodation,” the lawsuit said.
Elvis Presley Enterprises did not directly address the lawsuit in a statement on Thursday but defended the attraction’s record of inclusion over the years.
“Graceland has welcomed over 20 million visitors for 34 years and is proud of its reputation for inclusion and hospitality,” it said.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs and representatives for the city of Memphis did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
Presley’s Graceland mansion is a 13.8-acre estate that the entertainer, known as the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” called home until his death on Aug. 16, 1977, at age 42. It is open to the public for tours, exhibits and events.
The five plaintiffs are asking for a jury trial and unspecified damages for emotional distress and mental anguish.
(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty and Peter Cooney)