What Are the Facts Behind the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.?


Quick Answer

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on Thursday, April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. King was in Memphis with members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to support a sanitation workers’ strike. In a speech given the prior evening, he advised supporters that he might not get to the promised land with them, and that he had seen the glory of God and was not afraid.

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Full Answer

After spending the afternoon planning a march on Washington D.C., King stepped out onto the second story balcony of his motel room. At approximately 6:05 p.m., a single .30 caliber bullet fired from a Remington 760 rifle struck him in the face and traveled to his neck, severing his jugular vein. King was immediately rushed to Saint Joseph’s Hospital, but doctors could not resuscitate him and pronounced him dead at 7:05 that evening.

Witnesses described a man later identified as James Earl Ray as fleeing from a nearby boarding house shortly after the incident. Police recovered the murder weapon and identified fingerprints found on it as belonging to Ray. Following a nationwide manhunt that lasted two months, police arrested Ray at London’s Heathrow Airport while boarding a flight to Africa with a forged Canadian passport. Ray pleaded guilty to King's assassination to avoid the death penalty and received a 99-year sentence without trial. He later recanted his confession and claimed to be part of a conspiracy involving the Mafia and the federal government. Details from an FBI investigation into King’s death are scheduled to remain classified until 2027.

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