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They Hate Him: What Just Happened?

Solomon Jones might have gotten the best view of the lone shot’s effect.  Standing directly in front of and below Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, he witnessed the civil rights leader and Nobel Laureate jerk backwards from the railing, over which King had been leaning just a split second earlier.

Within half a minute, a host of Memphis’ Finest descended onto the scene.  At that moment, photographer Joseph Louw snapped this now iconic image of the assassination.*

Figure 1.  Assassination Photograph 

As you can see, there are six people on that balcony.  A bullet has just ripped through Dr. King’s  jaw and knocked him flat and unconscious, with his feet stuck under the balcony’s railing, and his knees bent.  The man kneeling over him is an undercover Memphis police officer named Marrell McCollough.

We will wind up talking quite a bit about Officer McCollough before this series is through.

There are four other people, all of whom are standing.  An unknown woman obstructs a clear view of Rev. Billy Kyles, but behind Martin we can see the unmistakable profile of Rev. Andrew Young, who appears to be blocking Rev. Ralph Abernathy
You’ll note that three of the standing point in precisely the same direction.  If you’re wondering why they’re doing this, remember that the police had aggressively descended onto the scene only seconds after the shot.  In the panic of that moment, Rev. Young initially thought that the police were charging them, as if they themselves had shot Dr. King from close range.  Fearing this, he instinctively pointed to the direction of where he actually heard shots. 

In effect, Young is saying at this moment that he didn’t do it.  Someone over there did it.  And you don’t have to step too far off the deep end to speculate that three others on that balcony had roughly the same idea in mind.

Witnesses approximate the time frame of this photograph at about thirty seconds after the shooting.  Arguably the most reliable account came from Joseph Louw, who told Time magazine that he was three doors down when he heard shots.  He immediately opened the door in time to see King fall to the ground.  He then dashed inside and grabbed his camera and just started shooting, a process that would most likely take less than thirty seconds (see link in the footnotes).

Specifically, they’re pointing across Mulberry St. 

Figure 2.  Map of the Lorraine Motel and Surroundings**

The above rendering would give another view as to where Young et al are pointing.  They appear to be pointing upward, in the general direction of a boarding house owned by Bessie Brewer.  The inference here is that they are pointing towards a top floor.  But what the above graphic doesn’t show is that the boarding house sits on a plot of land elevated above Mulberry Street.

Figure 3.  Brewer house (2nd building from the left) as viewed from Mulberry Street.

Granted, when you think of sniper, you usually pictures someone shooting down from above.  And given the elevation of the land across the street, it’s difficult to assess the exact height that the fatal bullet originated in relationship to the buildings around it. But this would still give a good indication that they knew that the shots didn’t originate from anyone in King’s entourage, or from any other point nearby, and that it came from across Mulberry St.

It didn’t take long for paramedics to rush Rev. King to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where doctors performed emergency thoracic (chest) surgery.  Martin died only minutes later at 7:05pm CST, on 4 April 1968.

*Louw is generally credited as the photographer by most sources, including Time magazine.  As with a lot of what we’ll be seeing, there are some who aren’t so sure.  For the time being, the best sources say Louw, and those are the ones I’m going with here. 

**There are some inaccuracies in this particular graphic that I’ll address later.  Be that as it may, this was the clearest layout I could find of this scene as it would have appeared on 5 April 1968.

BTW, the date given in that last sentence was not a typo.

This post first appeared on The X Spot, please read the originial post: here

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They Hate Him: What Just Happened?


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