Monday, April 4, 2016


JFK+50:  Volume VI, No. 1909  


Memphis, Tennessee (JFK+50) Forty-eight years ago today, April 4, 1968, civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was 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 Central Standard Time.   The bullet entered the jaw severing Dr. King's spinal cord.  After being rushed to a local hospital, Dr. King was pronounced dead.  He was 39 years old.

Ironically, after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, MLK told his wife Coretta,"This is what is going to happen to me also.  I keep telling you this is a sick society."

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

Dr. King, who was in Memphis to support striking sanitation workers, Dr. Ralph Abernathy and several other associates had been preparing to go to dinner at the home of Reverend Billy Kyles*** when the shot rang out.

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.

*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.

**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.
JER was incarcerated at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Petros, TN.

***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.


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

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

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