Though Chilled By The Images, Locals Glad They Have Surfaced
By Michael Lollar
The Memphis Commercial Appeal
Saturday, April 4, 2009
The photographs became obscure parts of a magazine archive in 1968, unpublished until Friday when they reminded the country of the man and the murder that transformed the civil rights movement in America.
A dozen photographs by LIFE magazine photographer Henry Groskinsky were discovered in the magazine's archives and posted on the LIFE Web site, reminding the world of the sniper attack that killed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
A series of more famous photographs had been used the morning after King's death, especially those of the men who surrounded King on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. In that famous photo, most of King's entourage stood pointing to the boarding house across Mulberry Street where the sniper had hidden.
Groskinsky had been in Alabama when he learned of King's death and rushed with a reporter to Memphis. He arrived that night, and his after-the-fact photos captured the brother of the motel owner in the most graphic of the photos. They remind the world that King, a national hero with a national holiday, was a mortal with a mortal wound. Theatrice Bailey is photographed sweeping King's blood from the balcony and, later, scraping drying blood from the concrete.
"It knocked me back. It upset me," said Benjamin L. Hooks, the retired national chairman of the NAACP, who said he looked through the photographs online Friday. His family had owned Hooks Brothers Photographers, and he had worked with his father from age 12 until he was drafted into the Army at 18.
Hooks said Groskinsky's photographs were among many that went unpublished when a photo editor selected only four or five of hundreds of photographs shot.
"I'm glad they were not destroyed," said Hooks, who said the photographs now are part of a history that includes Hooks himself in King's motel room after the shooting. Hooks had been at a bar association meeting at the old Claridge Hotel when he learned King had been shot. When he rushed to the Lorraine Motel, he joined King's entourage.
"In the photograph we were sitting around discussing what had happened." As they recalled King's life, they were sometimes able to laugh, but, "We also cried."
King had often said he was fearful, but not afraid of being killed.
"Those of us who had worked closely with Dr. King for so many years looked for him to be killed. I had been with him so many times when he had been threatened," said Hooks.
Months before the shooting, he had persuaded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to appoint Rev. Ralph Abernathy as first vice president with automatic succession rights.
"He was preparing for his death," Hooks said.
National Civil Rights Museum president Beverly Robertson said the photographs "were moving, but also chilling." Robertson said the museum is looking into acquiring the photos or using them on loan as part of its story of civil and human rights.
In Boca Raton, Fla., Groskinsky told The Associated Press that he was glad his photographs, none of which had been used, finally are "seeing the light of day." He said he no longer owns the photos, but is glad they are "a part of history. Unfortunately, it was a sad part of history."
-- Michael Lollar: 901-529-2793
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