At 6:05 P.M. on Thursday, 4 April 1968, Martin Luther King was shot dead while standing on a balcony outside his second-ﬂoor room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. News of King’s assassination prompted major outbreaks of racial violence, resulting in more than 40 deaths nationwide and extensive property damage in over 100 American cities. James Earl Ray, a 40-year-old escaped fugitive, later confessed to the crime and was sentenced to a 99-year prison term. During King’s funeral a tape recording was played in which King spoke of how he wanted to be remembered after his death: ‘‘I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving
others’’(King, ‘‘Drum Major Instinct,’’ 85).
King had arrived in Tennessee on Wednesday, 3 April to prepare for a march the following Monday on behalf of striking Memphis sanitation workers. As he prepared to leave the Lorraine Motel for a dinner at the home of Memphis minister Samuel ‘‘Billy’’ Kyles, King stepped out onto the balcony of room 306 to speak with Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) colleagues standing in the parking area below. An assassin ﬁred a single shot that caused severe wounds to the lower right side of his face. SCLC aides rushed to him, and Ralph Abernathy cradled King’s head. Others on the balcony pointed across the street toward the rear of a boarding house on South Main Street where the shot seemed to have originated. An ambulance rushed King to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where doctors pronounced him dead at 7:05 P.M.