February 10, 2012

The Day Martin Luther King Died - Unpublished Photos

On April 4, 1968, LIFE photographer Henry Groskinsky and writer Mike Silva, on assignment in Alabama, learned that Martin Luther King, Jr., had been shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The two men jumped into their car, raced the 200 miles to the scene of the crime, and there — to their astonishment — found that they had unfettered access to the hotel’s grounds; to the abandoned buildings from which the rifle shot likely came; to Dr. King’s room; and to the bleak, blood-stained balcony where the civil rights leader had fallen, mortally wounded by an assassin’s bullet, mere hours earlier.

For reasons lost in the intervening decades, the photographs that Groskinsky took that night in Memphis — at the very site of one of the signal events of the 1960s — were never published, and the story behind them was never told. Until now...

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., photographed for LIFE in 1961.

The Lorraine Motel, Memphis, April 4, 1968.

The Balcony at the Lorraine Motel - Colleagues gather on the balcony outside room 306, just a few feet from where Dr. King was shot.

In Dr. King's Room - Stunned, silent members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Dr. King's room, including Andrew Young (far left, under table lamp) and the civil rights leader and King's colleague, Reverend Ralph Abernathy, seated in the middle on the far bed.

Consoling - Ralph Abernathy and Will D. Campbell, a long-time friend and civil rights activist, embrace in Dr. King's room.

Cleaning Blood From the Balcony - Outside of room 306, Theatrice Bailey, the brother of the motel's owner, sweeps blood from the balcony.

Looking Toward the Lorraine Motel - A photo taken through tree branches by Groskinsky from a derelict building across the street from the Lorraine, very close to where the shot that killed Dr. King likely came from.

Where the Assassin Stood - The building on the left is the abandoned building from which Groskinsky took several of his photographs on the night of April 4; the building on the right is likely the house from which James Earl Ray shot Dr. King.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Briefcase, Room 306, the Lorraine Motel - King's neatly packed, monogrammed briefcase in his room at the Lorraine.

Grim Task - Theatrice Bailey attempts to clean blood from the balcony, hours after the 6 p.m. shooting.

The Plane That Would Take Dr. King's Remains to Montgomery - An airplane dispatched by the U.S. government to retrieve Dr. King's body and return it to Atlanta, Georgia, waits on the tarmac in Memphis.

Alone After Dr. King's Death - Will D. Campbell, alone on the motel balcony, gazing out into the night.

(Henry Groskinsky—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)


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