Martin Luther King Jr., American clergyman and civil rights leader, was fatally shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968. King was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m. that evening. He was a prominent leader of the Civil Rights Movement and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was known for his use of nonviolence.
It’s been 49 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Here are 7 facts you should know about the killing of the civil rights leader in Memphis, Tennessee.
Martin Luther King Jnr.
7. The Baptist minister, who sought equality through nonviolent resistance, delivered a 43-minute speech at the mason Temple Church of God in Memphis the day before his assassination. It was the last speech he ever gave.
6. King was standing outside room 306 at the Lorraine Motel, where he was staying, when he was shot in the neck by a sniper’s bullet. The African-American civil rights leader was rushed to a local hospital and pronounced dead an hour later at the age of 39. He left behind his wife, Coretta Scott King, and four children.
5. King faced an assassination attempt years earlier: King was signing copies of his book “Stride toward Freedom” in 1958 in Harlem when a woman approached him asking if he was Martin Luther King Jr., according to History.com. Izola Ware Curry said she had been looking for King for years before stabbing him in the chest with a 7-inch letter opener. After undergoing hours of surgery and spending weeks recovering in a hospital bed, King said he had no ill will toward the attacker, who was mentally ill.
4. King’s assassin pleaded guilty before eventually withdrawing the plea: James Earl Ray pleaded guilty to King’s death in 1969 to avoid execution in the electric chair, and was instead sentenced to 99 years behind bars. It took him three days to withdraw the plea, saying he was only part of a conspiracy. He requested new trials for the next 29 years, all of which were denied. He died in 1998.
3. There were two deaths that day. While the shot to King proved fatal, the woman who stepped out from her office to get a glimpse of the Civil Rights hero, ended up seeing the assassination. She immediately had a heart attack from the shock, and died soon after from it. As the motel owner’s wife, she was also the only person on the premises who knew how to operate the phones, and King’s friends and associates were left scrambling to find another means of getting help.
2. The evening of April 4, King planned to have dinner with Memphis minister Samuel “Billy” Kyles and Ralph Abernathy. The two were at the Lorraine Motel when King was shot and killed and, according to Kyles’ account, remained by the slain leader’s side until he passed away. When Abernathy died in 1990, Kyles took on the distinction of being “the last remaining person to have spent the final hour of Dr. King’s life with him.” The minister ultimately became executive director of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition.
1. King was assassinated in Memphis where, as it is often noted, he was preparing for a march in support of striking sanitation workers. The deaths of garbage collectors Echol Cole and Robert Walker, who were crushed by a malfunctioning truck, precipitated that strike. In addition to recognition of their union, the workers were demanding improved safety standards to avoid similar tragedies.