The death of civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. shocked the world. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. While standing on the balcony of his hotel, he was shot by James Earl Ray. Martin had given a speech the day before he was shot. His murder, James Earl, was sentenced to life imprisonment and died in jail in 1998. Photographer Joseph Louw was working on a documentary about Martin Luther King Jr. He finished his dinner earlier on the same day when MLK was assassinated. Louw was staying three doors down from King when he heard the fire shot; he bought his camera. “it was just a matter of realizing the horror of the thing. Then I knew I must record it for the world to see.” He told Life. Louw captured the chaos and emotions of people. He shot four rolls of film, but one photograph remained emblazoned. It was the photograph of King’s comrades who were pointing their fingers towards the assassin. The same day another LIFE photographer Henry Groskinsky and writer Mike Silva visited the location where King was murdered. They accessed and photographed the building and motel’s ground and the location from which the gunshot likely came. These photographs below show the assassination and moments after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
This would be the last speech he would ever give, and this photo would be one of the last ever taken.
"This picture was probably made as soon as we got there," Groskinsky told LIFE. "When I saw him standing there, alone, I thought it looked as if he was just asking himself, My God, what has happened here?"
"It was a little scary crawling into the building, because who knew who was going to be there? Who doesn't want you to be there? The atmosphere was very dark, very creepy."
including Andrew Young (far left, under table lamp) and civil rights leader and Dr. King's colleague, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, in the middle on the far bed. "I was very discreet," Groskinsky recalled. "I shot just enough to document what was going on. There, almost in the center of the picture, in the mirror, you can see my reflection. I took a couple of pictures and just kind of backed off."
"Here we were, two white guys in the Deep South right after the murder of the preeminent leader of the black community — voyeurs, in a sense," Groskinsky told LIFE. "We were apprehensive about it. But when we got there, there were no big problems for us."
Around 3,000 troops were brought in to quell the panic and anger triggered by the murder of Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. April 6, 1968. Chicago, Illinois.
Cities hit hardest by the rioting included Washington, D.C. (where 1,000 were injured and 6,000 were arrested).