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On April 2, 1968, New York Times reporter Earl Caldwell arrived in Memphis, checked into the Lorraine Motel and checked out its cozy bar-restaurant.

Caldwell ordered dinner — “they could fry fish in there, make you cry” — and enjoyed a jukebox filled with 45s from nearby Stax Records: Otis Redding, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Sam & Dave.

It was a good start to his assignment: Shadowing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on his visit to the Tennessee city.

By the time King arrived the next day, Caldwell recalled, the upbeat vibes were gone.

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“There was indeed an ill wind blowing,” recalled Caldwell in a sitdown with the Daily News. “Something just didn’t feel right.”

A speech delivered that night by King himself drew cheers from the crowd inside the Mason Temple despite the reverend’s ominous words about his uncertain future.

Less than 24 hours later, at 6:01 p.m., King was lying on a second-floor motel balcony stained with his blood outside room 306.

The nation’s foremost proponent of nonviolence was killed in the most violent of fashions, a single bullet tearing through the brown skin of his face and neck.

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He was just 39, leaving behind wife Coretta Scott King and their four children — the oldest only 12 years old.

The crack of a rifle around dinnertime echoed through the neighborhood, changing the world in an instant. College student Clara Ester spotted King standing on the balcony as she headed into the Lorraine for dinner.

“He looked like he was lifted up and thrown back on the pavement,” she recalled to The Associated Press. “He’s struggling for air.”

The scene at the motel was chaotic: A distraught black man pounding his head against the steering wheel of his Cadillac.

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The Rev. Jesse Jackson and other top King lieutenants jumping up and down in the parking lot, pointing up toward the dying man on the second floor.

Up there, the Rev. Ralph Abernathy tried vainly to stanch the blood with a motel towel. An ambulance was called, but it was already too late.

King was pronounced dead at St. Joseph’s Hospital at 7:05 p.m.

On Wednesday, the 50th anniversary of King’s death, his family will gather beside his grave at the King Center in Atlanta to honor the patriarch martyred in the cause of racial equality.

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In the decades since his death, King’s influence endures and expands: The civil rights leader’s birthday has become a national holiday. He served as a muse for Irish band U2, which still brings crowds to their feet with “Pride (In The Name of Love).”

The United States elected (and reelected) its first African-American President.

And his words remain oft-quoted among those advocating change and supporting the downtrodden and dispossessed.

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U.S. National Guard troops block off Beale St. as Civil Rights marchers wearing placards reading, “I AM A MAN” pass by on March 29, 1968.

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“King stated that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Queens) on the anniversary’s eve, ripping the Trump administration.

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King’s daughter Bernice tweeted her hopes for a future like the one envisioned by her dad.

“I am hopeful,” she said. “I have no doubt that my father, too, would be hopeful, even as our nation and our world grapple with a resurgence of divisive discourse and polarizing policies.”

King arrived in Memphis that April to show support for an ongoing sanitation workers strike. But he wasn’t feeling 100%, afflicted with a cold or a headache.

Jesse Jackson recalled King was simply feeling down in the dumps. Whatever the problem, King rallied at the urging of his friend Abernathy and headed to the house of worship.

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King delivered his final address for a few hundred people as the building’s old tin roof rattled from the pounding rain and winds of a southern thunderstorm.

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Civil rights leader Andrew Young (l.) and others standing on the balcony of Lorraine motel pointing in the direction of King’s assailant after his assassination.

(JOSEPH LOUW/THE LIFE IMAGES COLLECTION/GETTY)

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now,” King told the cheering audience. “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter to me, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

“And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know that we as a people will get to the promised land.”

The speech still stands as among his most famous.

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On the day after the killing, King’s weeping colleagues returned to his room at the Lorraine to collect the slain civil rights leader’s personal effects.

The motel’s owner Walter Bailey was tending to his wife Loree, who suffered a stroke in the assassination’s aftermath. She died on April 9, the day of King’s funeral.

Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson performed “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” at the funeral — the very song that King had requested for a rally that never occurred on the night of his murder.

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National Guard troops stand with bayonets fixed as workers march.

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Room 306 was never rented again, and the Lorraine was finally turned into the National Civil Rights Museum. Escaped convicted James Earl Ray was arrested, charged and pleaded guilty to the assassination.

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Conspiracy theorists who think Ray took the fall for a bigger plot include King’s three surviving children. Ray died behind bars in 1998.

King’s body, inside a bronze coffin, was taken to the Memphis airport on April 5. A plane carrying his widow would take King back to Atlanta.

Caldwell, after staying up all night, headed to the Memphis airport that morning.

He arrived to see hundreds of black faces standing behind barricades at the airport, where National Guardsmen with rifles and bayonets were deployed to keep the crowd at bay. Many in the crowd appeared haggard, as if they had driven all night for one final farewell to King.

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And then, Caldwell recalled in an image still crystal clear a half-century later, one black woman began to speak.

“She said, ‘I’ve been standing behind these lines all my life. I’m not standing behind any longer,’ ” recounted Caldwell.

“This woman, she burst right through that line.”

One of King’s associates rushed toward the woman, wrapped her in a hug and brought her on board the plane.

source: nydaily

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