Friday, April 4, 2014



Memphis, Tennessee (JFK+50) Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed forty six years ago today, April 4, 1968, 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

One bullet struck the civil rights leader at 6:01 Central Standard Time.

The bullet entered the jaw severing Dr. King's spinal cord.

After being rushed to a local hospital, Martin Luther King, Jr. was pronounced dead.

MLK Jr. was 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 and its guests over the years included Stak Records recording artists Ray Charles, Lionel Hampton, Aretha Franklin, Ethel Waters & Otis Redding.

In 1991, the 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 and passed away 5 days later.

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

James Earl Ray Mugshot
July 9, 1955
Federal Bureau of Prisons

**James Earl Ray (1928-1998) was born in Alton, Illinois.  He served in the US Army in Germany at the end of WWII.  

Ray was convicted of the murder of Dr. King on March 10, 1969 and sentenced to a 99 year prison term.

He was incarcerated at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Petros, Tennessee.

Dr. King, Dr. Ralph Abernathy and 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 five steps and heard this the time I looked back, Martin had...fallen."

Several of Dr. King's associates heard the gunshot and believed 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 and poor working conditions.

***Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles was born in Shelby, Mississippi in 1934.  He became pastor of Monumental Baptist Church in 1959 and continues in that position today.  

Rev. Kyles is a founding member of the National Board of People United to Save Humanity and worked on Jesse Jackson's presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988.

Rev. Kyles was appointed by President Clinton to serve on the Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad and 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.

I asked Rev. Kyles what kind of personal security Dr. King had on the day he was shot.

Billy 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 and because Dr. King had flown to Memphis, the man was not there at the time of the shooting.

Rev. Billy Kyles

John White and Rev. Billy Kyles
National Civil Rights Museum
Memphis, Tennessee
Photo by Dr. Chad Smith (2008) 

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