Newly published photographs of the aftermath of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. languished for decades in Life magazine's archive before being published on the magazine's Web site this week.
About a dozen black-and-white pictures that went online Thursday include scenes of King's associates meeting solemnly in the civil rights leader's motel room, standing on the balcony where he stood for the last time, and workers cleaning the last of the blood. Saturday marks the 41st anniversary of the assassination.
They were taken April 4, 1968, by Life magazine photographer Henry Groskinsky, who was on assignment in Alabama with writer Mike Silva when they learned that King had been shot in Memphis and rushed to the scene.
Groskinsky, reached at his vacation home in Boca Raton, Fla., said Friday he learned about a week ago that the photographs, which he does not own, would be made public.
"The only thing I can figure is it might've had something to do with the (anniversary)," he said. "I think with Life opening up that new Web site, they started looking through the archives and ... said, 'What's this? Why wasn't this published at the time of the assassination?'"
Instead, the now-famous Associated Press photo taken by another photographer, depicting King's lieutenants pointing in the direction of the assassin, was used by Life and other publications. None of Groskinsky's images were published and he said he's glad they are now on display.
'Finally ... see the light of day'
"I thought it was great," Groskinsky said. "Finally, those pictures will see the light of day. People will see what the situation looked like."
Since then, Groskinsky said he has talked to Silva about the experience, and even pulls out his own copies of the photos once every decade or so.
"I don't dwell on them," he said. "Every once in a while, I come across that envelope and reminisce about it."
Still, he has had time to reflect on his contribution to a watershed moment for the country.
"It's very nice to be a part of history," he said. "Unfortunately, it was a sad part of history. But there was nobody else there. We documented what we could."
Groskinsky recalled that he and Silva weren't sure what they would encounter as two white men new to the story of the civil rights movement. To their surprise, they had access not just to the motel but to King's room.
'Felt like an intruder'
"We were greeted very nicely," he said. "We had relatively easy access, but I didn't want to push it. I really felt like an intruder. There was no pressure from anyone. That made us feel much more comfortable."
King was in Memphis to support black sanitation workers who had been on strike. The day before he was killed, King delivered his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" address.
He was standing on the balcony at about 6 p.m. the next day, when James Earl Ray fatally shot him with a high-powered rifle. Some of the more famous photos of that day show people on the balcony pointing toward where they heard the shots fired from across the street and one of King after being felled by the bullet.
The newly published photos include one showing King's open briefcase, a can of shaving cream on top of neatly folded pajamas and the book "Strength to Love" appearing from the top of the pocket of the briefcase. Other images are of the building where the fatal shot was fired and of the balcony of that building.
"The atmosphere of those dark, creepy buildings ... It was a little scary crawling into the building, because who knows who is going to be there? Who doesn't want you to be there?" Groskinsky said in one of the photograph captions.