Monday, April 4, 2011

Memphis Manhunt

The Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

In commemoration of the forty-third anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I would like to share some of my photos and thoughts about his death and the site where he was murdered. The place of his killing was the Lorraine Motel in downtown Memphis (now the site of the National Civil Rights Museum - one of the best historical museums in the country I believe). Pictured above is the original motel sign which also serves as the visual attractor to the museum.

The site of King's death has largely been preserved as it was on April 4, 1968. While the balcony, parking lot, and outer facade of the motel remain...

...the interior is now the National Civil Rights Museum which interprets the entirety of the Civil Rights Movement from abolition, to Reconstruction, and up to the present. The photo above shows Dr. King's bedroom in Room 306 where he spent his last night alive. It is one of the few interior rooms which has maintained its historical appearance.

King and his staff arrived in Memphis on April 3, 1968 in the hopes of helping the city's mostly African American sanitation workers attain additional labor rights. He would deliver his final speech (known as the "Mountaintop Speech") later that night at the Mason Temple, prophesying his own death that would come the following day. (Refer to the CBS News video further below.) Pictured from left to right are Hosea Williams, Jesse Jackson, King, and Ralph David Abernathy only feet away from where King would be shot the following evening.

This segment of PBS's Roads to Memphis describes James Earl Ray's contemplation of assassinating Martin Luther King, featuring writer Hampton Sides, author of Hellhound on His Trail.

A very simple plaque offers a very brief and spiritual description of King's life and was dedicated by Rev. Ralph Abernathy, King's longtime friend and activist partner who stood by his side as he was shot through the jaw on April 4. Abernathy was King's roommate in 306 shown on the balcony above.

Segment two of Roads to Memphis explains the long list of enemies Martin Luther King had - including white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and even the FBI.

Shortly after 6 p.m., King walked out onto the balcony to talk to some associates regarding that night's social gathering. Reportedly, King's last words were said to accompanying coordinator and musician Ben Branch: "Ben, make sure you play "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty."

Perhaps only second later, King was shot through the jaw and neck by a .30 caliber bullet fired from the small, upper right window at the boarding house across the street from the hotel. The shot smashed his jaw, some of his vertebrae, and struck his jugular - causing him to bleed profusely onto the porch's deck. Historians agree that longtime convict and segregationist James Earl Ray was the perpetrator, for he left a "bundle" of evidence including his rifle, binoculars, and radio outside the boarding house for fear that police would be suspicious of the large duffel bag he was toting.

Witnesses point to police the direction from which the shot came from. Take notice of the white handkerchief place over King's face to cover his horrific wound. The man kneeling over King is actually an FBI agent who was following the Civil Rights activist and his staff. (As was mentioned in the video, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover kept constant surveillance on King and fellow Civil Rights leaders.) King died shortly after 7 p.m. that evening at a nearby hospital. He was thirty-nine years of age.

The third segment of the PBS video describes the immediate aftermath of the assassination as James Earl Ray flees the authorities. Meanwhile, riots break out across the nation.

Here, the esteemed Walkter Cronkite reports King's assassination as well as the ongoing search efforts for his killer.

Eventually, the FBI made a huge break in the case and ruled James Early Ray to be their prime suspect. Remarkably, they rather quickly discovered his matching fingerprints from the rifle to those in their paper files. Ray was quick to hit the road and actually was able to flee the United States to England with the intention of escaping to Rhodesia, South Africa. Before he could do so, Scotland Yard captured him in London's Heathrow Airport and extradited him back to the United States. In court, he admitted to killing King but then recanted his plea. Nevertheless, he remained imprisoned for the rest of his life, dying in 1998 at age seventy. (At one point, he personally met with King's family and insisted he did not kill their father. They believed and forgave him.)

Meanwhile, however, dozens of massive riots broke out through most of the country's major cities. Here, a Memphis police officer is seen using a nightstick to beat black rioters into submission.

Within days, a veritable shrine of flowers, photos, and mementos graced the balcony where King was gunned down.

Today, the entrance to the National Civil Rights Museum is located just to the left of the hotel's front.

In a modern society where are far from overcoming our racial strife, one cannot help but to reflect how far we indeed have come. King embodied the "unfinished work" of the Civil War but, like Lincoln, was never able to see the fruits of his labor. What can we do to carry on their legacy? How will you remember what happened in Memphis over forty years ago?


  1. I really enjoyed this posting, thanks for sharing.

  2. Same here, Thank you.

  3. Nice job, Jared. As sad as this anniversary is, it's wonderful to remember his contribution to the Civil Rights Movement and equality in this nation.