Lorraine Motel, April 4, 1968

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., just after 6 p.m. on April 4, 1968. Within hours, Life magazine photographer Steve Schapiro was on that balcony and through the door of King's room.

"The physical body of Martin Luther King Jr.," writes Schapiro in a new book of his photographs, "Schapiro's Heroes," "was forever gone, leaving a few small material remains behind: a wrinkled shirt, a book, a Soul Force magazine, an old Styrofoam coffee cup. The half-drunk coffee cup gave me a moment of pause. He had left his room planning to return."

The TV was on. When King's face appeared on a newscast, Schapiro took this photograph -- history preserved. Now the two motel rooms that housed the King party, along with parts of the rest of the Lorraine Motel, have been turned into the National Civil Rights Museum. In 2006, Schapiro went back to the scene. "The wall on which the television had been mounted was ... gone, replaced with a sheet of thick clear plastic," he said. "Visitors could peer into King's room, but no one will ever get to see that eerie image that is forever imbedded in my mind."

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
68°