Only two other men were with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the day moments before he was killed on April 4, at the Lorraine Motel, 450 Mulberry St. in Memphis.
One was Rev. Ralph Abernathy, a co-founder with King of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The other was Rev. Samuel Kyles, who stood next to King just moments before a bullet struck King down.
The student’s final stop on Friday was to Memphis and the National Civil Rights Museum. The museum is built onto the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was murdered on April 4, 1968. The museum is literally like taking a walk back in time. Beginning in a theater with a film about King, one section of the museum leads to another and then another. Along the way, the story of the civil rights movement and Dr. King is told.
The progression leads to inevitably and dramatically to room 306 where King spent his last hours alive.
Room 306, which is not open to the public but visible through glass, was remolded to look as it did on the day King died. The balcony where he stood is visible through a large glass window but is also not accessible to the public from inside or outside. A wreath hangs on the balcony marking the spot.
Abernathy and Kyles were in room 306 with King. King usually stayed in room 307, which was occupied at the time.
Abernathy left the room to go down to the first floor below.
Kyles and King stepped out onto the balcony. Moments later, Kyles was placing bed sheets around King’s head to try and stop the bleeding for the gun shot wound.
Kyles is the only survivor of the three men–Abernathy died in 1990. Kyles spoke with students about that day.
“There are no words to express now what I felt and there were no words then to describe what I felt,” said Kyles. “I thought I was having a nightmare, but I was awake. I wasn’t asleep.”
The bullet shattered the side of King’s face and severed his spinal cord, Kyles remembered. The bullet and gun was of a special kind made that was designed to cause such damage.
“Here he was, with all those oratorical and leadership skills dying on a balcony,” said Kyles.
King and the others were in Memphis to help striking black sanitation workers.
“He could have been anywhere else, but he was here helping garbage workers,” Kyles said.
Across the street of the Lorraine side of the museum is the building where the shot supposedly came from. The Civil Rights museum acquired the property and turned it into an extension of the museum. The bathroom location where the assassin allegedly shot King is recreated to look as it did on that day.
Marquis Tate, 14, said he learned alot from the visit of the museum and motel.
“I liked it because it was historical and I could see were he slept and see the stuff he left behind,” he said. “I thought that was really exciting.”