Newly-Released “LIFE” Photographs of Memphis (April 4, 1968)

LIFE PhotoOn April 4, 1968, LIFE photographer Henry Groskinsky and writer Mike Silva, on assignment in Alabama, learned that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had been shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. They raced to the scene and there, incredibly, had unfettered access to the hotel grounds, Dr. King’s room, and the surrounding area. For reasons that have been lost in the intervening years, the photographs taken that night and the next day were never published. Until now.

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My God, what a terrible time. What a terrible day. What a tremendous loss to our nation, and to the world–the depths of which we may never truly know. Those pictures are too painful to look at. Maybe that is one reason they were not published at the time. The nation was in shock and in mourning. That was a devastating day for millions of Americans, white and black, but oh, for the black community the sun stopped shining in the sky and hope was eclipsed for another forty years. When I hear people–with the exception of the members of Dr. King’s family who are fighting to protect his memory– talk today about Dr. King’s “brand”, I just want to say, “what the hell are you talking about?” WHAT are you talking about? Brand??……….Look at these pictures. One of our nation’s most prominent leaders was assassinated in cold blood. There is no “brand” that encompasses the horror of that fact.

Kevin,

On a much lighter, and I would have to say, triumphal note on this anniversary of the death of Dr. King in the year 2009, I just saw President Obama in a press conference with the European press, and he was truly brilliant and gracious. He was asked if he saw America as an “exceptional country”, and his answer to that question was the best I have heard to date. He said that yes he does see America as exceptional, just as the British see Britain as exceptional and the Greeks see their history and their country as exceptional. He then referenced America’s role in World War II and said that America need not be ashamed or embarrassed about our history, and that pride in our history did not in any way diminish the importance of the history of any other nation. It was a message of strength, beauty, and healing, and it was powerfully delivered in an understated way. It made me think of Dr. King’s statement that there could be no great disappointment where there was no great love. Dr King loved this country, and so does President Obama, and so do I and so do you and so do Robert, Richard Williams, Vicki, Greg, Brooks, Michael, Jim, Larry, Woodrow fan, Matthew, Craig, Richard and the rest of the gang. I was just thinking how brilliant all of you are, and how much I enjoy the conversation. I know historians don’t talk about “love”, but I am not a (“an”, we used to say, “archaic” now apparently) historian. Sorry, I am a little emotional right now because of these pictures juxtaposed with the press conference. TSDMF (tears streaming down my face with grief for Dr. King, and with joy for President Obama)

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