Caption

Last moments of Martin Luther King Jr. filled with normalcy

The remarkable thing about the actual death of Martin Luther King Jr., is that the moments leading up to it were so mundane.

From his second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, he spotted Ben Branch, the director of the director of the Operation Breadbasket band. King remembered how beautifully Branch had once played one of his favorite songs, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” and asked that he play it at the meeting that night, “real pretty.” 

RELATED: Read the AJC’s full coverage on the life and death of Martin Luther King Jr.

In those moment, as King stood on the balcony getting ready for dinner, James Orange, Andrew Young and Jesse Jackson stood in the parking lot either slap boxing, or in Jackson’s case, finding excuses about why he was not wearing a tie. 

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King’s closest confident, Ralph David Abernathy, was still in the room they shared, putting on Aramis cologne. 

Across the street in a flophouse, James Earl Ray, a small-time thief, who had followed King from Atlanta in his white Ford Mustang, awkwardly positioned himself in his bathtub. 

He was watching it all through the scope of his rifle. 

Civil rights leader Andrew Young, left, and others accompanying the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. point police in the direction of a rifle shot that struck King, lying at their feet, in the neck as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis the evening of April 4, 1968. King, who was in Memphis to help lead a sanitation workers' strike, died a short time later at a hospital. Mary Ellen Ford, a motel worker standing among the people on the ground below, spoke out for the first time as the nation prepares to observe the 50th anniversary of King's assassination. (Joseph Louw/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

Solomon Jones was watching the weather. A driver from the local funeral home who would chauffeur King in a white Cadillac, Jones noticed that King was just wearing his suit jacket. 

A storm had ravished Memphis the night before and Jones had a feeling that it was going to get cold. 

“Doc, you better get a coat,” Jones yelled up to the second flood. 

A moment later, King was dead.

Read more about King’s last day in “Honoring King,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s package looking at the last year of King’s life.

The March 21 documentary 'The Last Days of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.' on Channel 2 kicked off a countdown of remembrance across the combined platforms of Channel 2 and its partners, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB Radio. The three Atlanta news sources will release comprehensive multi-platform content until April 9, the anniversary of King’s funeral. On April 4, the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, the three properties will devote extensive live coverage to the memorials in Atlanta, Memphis and around the country. The project will present a living timeline in real time as it occurred on that day in 1968, right down to the time the fatal shot was fired that ended his life an hour later. The project will culminate on April 9 with coverage of the special processional in Atlanta marking the path of Dr. King’s funeral, which was watched by the world.

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