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Martin’s Last Hours

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Our friends at Memphis Magazine have put together a fantastic look back at the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., which occurred in their city 40 years ago today. Check out the whole package, which includes a chilling, minute by minute, timeline of King’s final 31 hours.

[April 13, 1968] 7:15 p.m. — James Earl Ray, described by one biographer as “a habitual criminal, at war with society, hopelessly alone,” arrives in Memphis, driving a white Mustang (some sources say it was actually faded yellow). He checks into the Rebel Motel, 3466 Lamar, and signs the register as Eric S. Galt. Desk clerk Henrietta Hagemaster assigns him to Room 34.

7:30 p.m. — Tornado sirens begin moaning across the city.

9:00 p.m. — King arrives at Mason Temple and receives a standing ovation. [Ralph] Abernathy gives him a 25-minute introduction, complete with jokes and stories. Another minister chastises him: “We thought you weren’t going to make a speech. Didn’t you know that they came to hear Martin?”

9:30 p.m. — King begins his famous “Mountaintop” speech, beginning by noting, “Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world.” He also tells about the time a woman walked up to him in a department store and stabbed him in the chest, narrowly missing his heart. [The Rev. James] Lawson, listening off to one side, thought the murder attempt was an odd subject to discuss: “I said to myself, ‘I’ve never heard him do that in public in quite that way.'”

10:00 p.m. — Tornadoes and thunderstorms sweep across Shelby County. Wind gusts repeatedly slam into the shutters of Mason Temple with a BANG as lightning flashes outside.

10:15 p.m. — King continues: “And then I got into 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 then it really doesn’t matter to me now.” He pauses. “Because I have been to the mountaintop.”

10:20 p.m. — Ivan Webb, night desk clerk at the Rebel Motel, notices the lights remain on all night in Room 34. [Historian Michael] Honey writes, “Ray watched television news as it casually pictured King entering Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel. Ray knew right where to find him.”

It’s a great example of what magazines do best.

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