Thursday, March 10, 2016


JFK+50:  Volume 6, No. 1884


Memphis, Tennessee (JFK+50) Forty-seven years ago today, March 10, 1969, James Earl Ray*, alleged assassin of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. plead guilty of the murder on his 41st birthday.  He was sentenced to 99 years in prison.

Just three days later, however, Ray attempted to change his plea to not guilty on the grounds that he had been  "set up."   That motion was denied by the court.

Dr. King, who was in Memphis to support striking sanitation workers who were protesting low wages and poor working conditions, had been shot as he stood on the balcony outside his room, #306, at the Lorraine Motel** here in Memphis. 

One bullet struck the civil rights leader at 6:01 local time. After being rushed to a local hospital, Martin Luther King, Jr. was pronounced dead.  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.

After the shooting, police found a 30-06 Remington hunting rifle on the sidewalk about a block from the motel.  The rifle was traced to James Earl Ray who was captured about two months later in London, U.K. 

*James Earl Ray (1928-1998) was born in Alton, Illinois.  He served in the US Army in Germany at the end of WWII.   JER  was incarcerated at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Petros, Tennessee.  While serving his sentence,Ray escaped twice but was recaptured both times. James Earl Ray died on April 23, 1998 in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 70.

**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.


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

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

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)