Thursday, April 4, 2013


April 4, 2013


Memphis, Tennessee (JFK+50) Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot & killed 45 years ago today, April 4, 1963, as he stood on the balcony outside his room, #306, at the Lorraine Motel* here in Memphis.

               Dr. King On the Balcony
                       Lorraine Motel
                  Memphis, Tennessee

A single rifle bullet struck the civil rights leader at 6:01 Central Standard Time.

The bullet entered the jaw & severed Dr. King's spinal cord. He was rushed to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead about an hour later.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was just 39 years old.

After the shooting, police found a 30-06 Remington hunting rifle on the sidewalk about a block from the Lorraine Motel.

                        The Lorraine Motel
                       Memphis, Tennessee
                 Photo by John White (2008)

*The Lorraine Motel, located at 450 Mulberry Street, opened in 1945 & its guests over the years included Stak Records recording artists Ray Charles, Lionel Hampton, Aretha Franklin, Ethel Waters & Otis Redding.

In 1991, the preserved motel became part of the National Civil Rights Museum which traces the history of the movement.

The original owner, Walter Bailey, named the Lorraine in honor of his wife, who tragically suffered a stroke just hours after Dr. King's death & passed away 5 days later.

The rifle was traced to James Earl Ray** who was caught about 2 months later in London, U.K. 

                  James Earl Ray Mugshot
                 Federal Bureau of Prisons

***James Earl Ray (1928-1998) was born in Alton, Illinois & served in the US Army in Germany at the end of WWII.  He was convicted of the murder of Dr. King on March 10, 1969 & sentenced to a 99 year prison term.  He was incarcerated at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Petros, Tennessee.

Dr. King, Dr. Ralph Abernathy & several other King associates had been preparing to go to dinner at the home of Reverend Billy Kyles*** of Memphis.

Dr. Kyles later recalled...

"Martin was leaning over the railing, talking to Jesse (Jackson).  The last person...he spoke to was Jesse.  In the middle of their conversation I said, 'Hey, guys, come on, let's go.'  And he was still talking to Jesse, leaning over.  I got about 5 steps & heard this the time I looked back, Martin had...fallen."

Several of Dr. King's associates heard the gunshot & indicated it came from the back of Bessie Brewer's boardinghouse across the street from the motel.

               "It came from over there!"

     View of Rear of Boarding House
                 Memphis, Tennessee
          Photo by John White (2008)

           View of Lorraine Motel
     From Rear of Boarding House
       Photo by John White (2008)

View of window inside Boarding House
         Photo by John White (2008)

Dr. King was in Memphis to support striking sanitation workers who were protesting low wages & poor working conditions.

**Reverend Samuel "Billy" Kyles was born in Shelby, Mississippi in 1934.  He became pastor of Monumental Baptist Church in 1959 & continues in that position today.  He is a founding member of the National Board of People United to Save Humanity & worked on Jesse Jackson's presidential campaigns in 1984 & 1988.

Rev. Kyles was appointed by President Clinton to serve on the Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad & in 1992 received the Tennessee Living Legend Award.


"True Crime:  Assassination," Time Life Books, Alexandria, Virginia, 1994.


I had the opportunity to talk with Reverend Kyles during a Summer 2008 workshop for teachers at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis which is also the same location of the original Lorraine Motel.

I asked Rev. Kyles what kind of personal security Dr. King had in Memphis.

Kyles said Dr. King had NO personal security in Memphis.  

He went on to tell me that normally King would have had "a man" with him but because the man did not like to fly & because Dr. King had flown to Memphis, the man was not there at the time of the shooting.

                         Rev. Billy Kyles

                  John White & Billy Kyles
            National Civil Rights Museum
                    Memphis, Tennessee
              Photo by Chad Smith (2008) 

      John White at the Lorraine Motel 
                   Memphis, Tennessee
          Photo by Chad Smith (2008)

                            You Tube Video