By Walter Rutledge
On April 4, 1968, forty- four years ago today, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. King was booked in room 306 at the Lorraine Motel, owned by Walter Bailey, in Memphis. The Reverend Ralph Abernathy, King’s close friend and colleague who was present at the assassination, testified under oath to the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations that King and his entourage stayed at room 306 at the Lorraine Motel so often it was known as the “King-Abernathy suite.”
According to Jesse Jackson, who was present, King’s last words on the balcony prior to his assassination were spoken to musician Ben Branch, who was scheduled to perform that night at an event King was attending: “Ben, make sure you play ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord‘ in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty.”
At 6:01 p.m., April 4, 1968, a shot rang out as King stood on the motel’s second floor balcony. The bullet entered through his right cheek, smashing his jaw, then traveled down his spinal cord before lodging in his shoulder. Abernathy heard the shot from inside the motel room and ran to the balcony to find King on the floor. The events following the shooting have been disputed, as some people have accused Jackson of exaggerating his response.
After emergency chest surgery, King was pronounced dead at St. Joseph’s Hospital at 7:05 p.m.According to biographer Taylor Branch, King’s autopsy revealed that though only 39 years old, he had the heart of a 60-year-old man, perhaps a result of the stress of 13 years in the civil rights movement.
One day earlier on April 3, King addressed a rally and delivered his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” address at Mason Temple, the world headquarters of the Church of God in Christ. King’s flight to Memphis had been delayed by a bomb threat against his plane. In the close of the last speech of his career, in reference to the bomb threat, King said the following:
And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.