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, swore under oath to the HSCA that King and his entourage stayed at room 306 at the Lorraine Motel so often it was known as the ‘King-Abernathy suite.’ While King was standing on the motel’s 2nd floor balcony, James Earl Ray shot him at 6:01 p.m. April 4, 1968. The bullet entered through his right cheek smashing his jaw and then traveling down his spinal cord before lodging in his shoulder. According to biographer Taylor Branch, King’s last words on the balcony were to musician Ben Branch (no relation to Taylor 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.” Abernathy was inside the motel room heard the shot and ran to the balcony to find King on the floor. Local Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles, whose house King was on his way to visit, remembers that upon seeing King go down he ran into a hotel room to call an ambulance. Nobody was on the switchboard, so Kyles ran back out and yelled to the police to get one on their radios. It was later revealed that the hotel switchboard operator, upon seeing King shot, had had a fatal heart attack and could not operate the phones. King was pronounced dead at St. Joseph’s Hospital at 7:05 p.m. The assassination led to a nationwide wave of riots in more than 100 cities.
The closing lines from his final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”:
I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, there were six of us, the pilot said over the public address system, “We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong with the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night.”
And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say that 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. And 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.