Last night, I was reading up a little on Martin Luther King, Jr. when I stumbled across the story of his assassination, told from the view of Dr. Billy Kyles. While I'd known the general story, two things I'd never heard about the event were that:
1) Martin Luther King, Jr. was out on that balcony because he was smoking.
According to Kyles, King was a regular smoker, but he hid his habit so that kids wouldn't imitate him. Apparently, once King had been shot, the quick-thinking Kyles took the crushed cigarette out of the Reverend's hand. He also took the package of cigarettes out from his pocket. It's stunning to me that there don't seem to be any pictures of Martin Luther King, Jr smoking anywhere (or that the brand he smoked hasn't tried to capitalize off this). Then again, there aren't that many pics of FDR in a wheelchair, nor wheelchair manufacturers who've emerged to talk about how much their wheels aided the former president.
2) No one could call an ambulance because the hotel's switchboard operator died.
There were two deaths that day. While the shot to King proved fatal, the woman who stepped out from her office to get a glimpse of the Civil Rights hero, ended up seeing the assassination. She immediately had a heart attack from the shock, and died soon after from it. As the motel owner's wife, she was also the only person on the premises who knew how to operate the phones, and King's friends and associates were left scrambling to find another means of getting help.
In Kyles' own words,
"I ran into the room and picked up the phone to call an operator or to call an ambulance. But, the operator had left the switchboard. There was nobody on the switchboard. I was saying, "Answer the phone, answer the phone, answer the phone." And there was nobody on the switchboard. So the phone was not answered. (I learned later that the operator had gone out into the courtyard to watch Dr. King. When she saw what happened, she had a heart attack. She was the motel owner's wife, and she died subsequently.) The police were coming with their guns drawn, and I hollered to the police, "Call an ambulance on your police radio. Dr. King has been shot." They said, "Where did the shot come from?" ... While waiting for the ambulance to come, I took a spread from one of the beds and covered him from his neck down. ... I cannot tell you the feelings I had seeing my friend there on that balcony bleeding to death. Finally the ambulance came and took him away."