MEMPHIS – Dr. Martin Luther King, Nobel Peace Prize winner who made nonviolence his chief weapon in the fight for civil rights, was shot to death here last night as he stood on a balcony outside his motel room.
The 39-year-old Negro leader was felled by a sniper‘s bullet which struck him in the neck as he prepared to leave the Lorraine Motel for dinner.
He was rushed to St. Joseph Hospital and wheeled into the emergency room, a white towel around his neck and an oxygen mask on his face. He appeared to be breathing, but died shortly after 7 pm, despite emergency surgery, an hour after he was shot.
Memphis police immediately issued an alarm for a “young white male, well dressed,” who reportedly ran out of a building across the street and fled in a car after dropping a rifle, fitted with a scope.
TWO MEN were picked up several blocks from the scene of the shooting, but were later released.
Frank Holloman, Memphis police director, said authorities believe the assassin stood in a second- floor bathroom at a flophouse on South Main Street, about 65 yards away, to shoot King.
In a press conference early today, Holloman said the suspect registered at the flophouse about 3:30 pm yesterday, and purchased a pair of binoculars later in the day. “From the bathroom,” Holloman said, “the man had a clear view of the balcony where King was standing.”
Holloman declined to say what name the man used when he registered, but described the suspect as being six feet tall, weighing about 165 to 175 pounds, between the ages of 26 and 32.
The police director said police found a 30.06 Remington rifle two doors from the flophouse, and believe it was the weapon used in the assassination. The FBI was checking the rifle to determine if it was the weapon used.
Rioting erupted here shortly after King was murdered. Two policemen were shot and National Guard troops and highway patrolmen were called in. Holloman went on television to report:
“Looting is rampant. The National Guard is coming back into town.”
Shortly after midnight, Claude Armour, special assistant to Gov. Buford Ellington for law and order, reported that “things are now in hand in Memphis.” He added:
“We had three or four bad hours, but reasonable order has now been restored.”
The 4,000 Guardsmen, who had been sent home Wednesday after five days on duty here, were rushed into Memphis as police ordered a 7 pm. to 5 am. curfew back into effect “until further notice.”
In addition, rioting broke out in several other cities throughout the nation, including Nashville, Raleigh, Tallahassee and Greensboro, NC. There were demonstrations and violence in Winston-Salem and Wilmington. NC, Newbern, S.C., Jackson, Miss; Birmingham and Huntsville, and Washington, DC.
King’s mourning associates sought to calm the Negro community by recalling the rights leader’s message of peace. Standing outside the emergency room, the aides waited in forlorn hope until King’s death was announced.
Paul Hess, assistant administrator at St. Joseph, said King received “a gaping wound” at the root of his neck. “Doctors did everything humanly possible,” he added.
Negro leader Dr King slain by lone Memphis assassin: April 4, 1968
Widespread Negro violence, including arson and shooting, broke out in several American cities as a convulsive wave of reaction followed the assassination Thursday of civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.
King, 39, died in a Memphis hospital Thursday night, less than an hour after he was shot in the neck by a white gunman while standing on the balcony of his motel here.
Police said a white man was stabbed to death during violence in Washington. A Negro died of stab wounds in Harlem, although it was not known if his death was related to disturbances there. Negroes Plead Police in Memphis shot and critically wounded one man after they said he opened fire on them. Two Detroit police officers were shot and wounded while patrolling in a predominantly Negro neighborhood.
Widespread looting and arson struck Harlem and Brooklyn’s Bedford Stuyvesant section. More than 90 persons were arrested and scores injured. Angry crowds burned and looted stores in a Negro neighborhood just two miles north of the White House in Washington. Some 50 persons were injured and 167 arrested. Police in Jackson, Miss., fired tear gas at groups of Negroes on the Jackson State College campus. A white-owned supermarket in a Negro section was firebombed despite a Negro leader’s pleas for nonviolence. Disturbances were reported in Nashville, Newark, Boston and a number of smaller cities and towns.
The violence that swept some city streets accompanied the national outpouring of grief and sorrow that followed the death of King, the nation’s leading advocate of non-violence and a Nobel Prize winner.
President Johnson led the nation’s mourning and tribute. In a nationwide television and radio appearance, he called upon “every citizen to reject the blind violence that has struck down Dr Martin Luther King.”
But violence flared in Memphis and the convulsive reaction reared also in Nashville, Newark, Washington, Boston, New York’s Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant and more than a half dozen smaller towns and cities.
Gov. Buford Ellington alerted the Army and Air National Guard of Tennessee and ordered 4,000 troops into Memphis and the same number into Nashville. A curfew, first clamped on Memphis after a King-led march turned into a riot last week, was reimposed. King was in the city preparing to lead another march in support of the city’s 1.300 striking garbage collectors, most of whom are Negroes. His party was about to go out for dinner, when King walked onto the motel balcony.
“And then we heard what sounded like a shot,” said the Rev. Andrew Young. “I thought it was a firecracker.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was standing beside King, said the civil right leader’s only utterance after the shot was, “Oh!”
“The bullet exploded in his face,” said Ben Branch. “It knocked him off his feet.” Solomon Jones, King’s chauffeur, said a “man in white clothes” ran from the scene. Police in Tennessee and Arkansas were looking for a young white man, who witnesses said was dressed in white and was driving a late model white car.
Sheriff William Morris said the fatal shot was apparently fired from a “flop-house” facing, the front of the [Lorraine Motel]. Police, said a .30-06 Remington rifle and a suitcase were found in the doorway of a building adjacent to the rooming house.
“The back window of this flophouse faced the front of the motel in which Dr King was staying,” Sheriff Morris said. “We feel the assassin crouched in a second-floor window, sighted through some trees and fired the shot that killed Dr King.”
“He got a straight shot,” Morris said. “King was standing on the second floor, leaning over a railing in front of his room. He was talking to two men on the ground. When the shot hit him, it knocked him backward. Officers heard the shot.”
which was at the end of a hall on the east side of the building,” he said.
FBI on case
Police did not disclose the name the man signed when he checked in. They said they found a palm print on the rifle, and it had been flown to the FBI in Washington. King was rushed from the motel to St. Joseph Hospital where he was wheeled into the emergency room at 6:16 p.m. His head was wrapped in a towel and an oxygen mask was over his face. The only sound came from the resuscitator which was pumping oxygen into his dying body.
The stretcher disappeared behind the swinging double doors and his aides leaned against the walls and wept.
The official announcement came at 7:30 p.m. when Paul Hess, assistant hospital administrator, read this statement: “At 7 p.m. Dr. Martin Luther King expired in the emergency room of a gunshot wound in the neck.”