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Martin Luther King Jr. Assassinated (Part 2)

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Picture of Martin Luther King Jr lying in state.

American civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr. lying in state in Memphis, Tennessee, as his colleagues pay their respects to him. Right to left: Andrew Young, Bernard Lee, and Reverend Ralph Abernathy.

(Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Martin Luther King Stands on the Lorraine Motel Balcony

The Lorraine Motel (now the National Civil Rights Museum) was a relatively drab, two-story motor inn on Mulberry Street in downtown Memphis. Yet it had become a habit of Martin Luther King and his entourage to stay at the Lorraine Motel when they visited Memphis.

On the evening of April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King and his friends were getting dressed to have dinner with Memphis minister Billy Kyles. King was in Room 306 on the second floor and hurried to get dressed since they were, as usual, running a bit late. While putting on his shirt and using Magic Shave Powder to shave, King chatted with Ralph Abernathy about an upcoming event.

Around 5:30 p.m., Kyles had knocked on their door to hurry them along. The three men joked about what was to be served for dinner. King and Abernathy wanted to confirm that they were going to be served "soul food" and not something like filet mignon. About half an hour later, Kyles and King stepped out from the motel room onto the balcony (basically the outside walkway that connected all the motel's second-story rooms). Abernathy had gone to his room to put on some cologne.

Near the car in the parking lot directly below the balcony, waited James Bevel, Chauncey Eskridge (SCLC lawyer), Jesse Jackson, Hosea Williams, Andrew Young, and Solomon Jones, Jr. (the driver of the loaned white Cadillac). A few remarks were exchanged between the men waiting below and Kyles and King. Jones remarked that King should get a topcoat since it might get cold later; King replied, "O.K."

Kyles was just a couple steps down the stairs and Abernathy was still inside the motel room when the shot rang out. Some of the men initially thought it a car backfire, but others realized it was a rifle shot. King had fallen to the concrete floor of the balcony with a large, gaping wound covering his right jaw.

 

Martin Luther King Jr. Shot!

Abernathy ran out of his room to see his dear friend fallen, laying in a puddle of blood. He held King's head saying, "Martin, it's all right. Don't worry. This is Ralph. This is Ralph." *

Kyles had gone into a motel room to call an ambulance while others encircled King. Marrell McCollough, an undercover Memphis police officer, grabbed a towel and tried to stop the flow of blood. Though King was unresponsive, he was still alive - but only barely.

Within fifteen minutes of the shot, Martin Luther King arrived at St. Joseph's Hospital on a stretcher with an oxygen mask over his face. He had been hit by a .30-06 caliber rifle bullet that had entered his right jaw, then traveled through his neck, severing his spinal cord, and stopped in his shoulder blade.

The doctors tried emergency surgery but the wound was too serious. Martin Luther King, Jr. was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m. He was 39 years old.

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