Dr. King’s Last Motel Room

H. Michael Harvey, JD
4 min readApr 2, 2018

Suite 306 Frozen In Time

Lorraine Motel room 306 as it appeared moments after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. exited his room to speak with his associates about dinner plans for the evening, April 4, 1968. He never returned to this room. © 2016 Harold Michael Harvey

Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel is forever frozen in time. It is as it was shortly after 6:00 pm central standard time on April 4, 1968.

Moments prior to 6:00 pm, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had just emerged from the room where he had been most of the day. He walked onto the second floor balcony of the motel that serviced the black community. The Lorraine Motel was a black owned motel during the system of segregated public accommodations and although Dr. King’s work in the thirteen years since the Montgomery Bus Boycott had broken down those barriers, he continued to patronize black businesses.

According to Reverend Dr. Babs Stinson Phillips, before Dr. King walked out of room 306, she had been engaged in a telephone conversation with him. Phillips had briefly worked as a private secretary for Dr. King during the last 90 days of his life.

King, according to Dr. Philips, had called to tell her to pay special attention to a speech he had given the night before at the Masonic Temple in Memphis.

During the conversation, she overheard loud sounds in the background. It appeared that several people were talking and having fun. Dr. King told her to hold on the line as he was going outside but would be right back.

The next voice she heard on the phone line to room 306 was the voice of who she believed to be Rev. Jesse Jackson. The voice repeatedly said, “Operator, Operator, Operator!”

Because Dr. King had given her explicit instructions to hold onto the line, she refused to hang up the phone and clear the party line for the person she now believes was Jesse Jackson.

“Hang up the phone, hang up the phone, hang up the phone. I need to get a clear line,” the voice yelled!

Like the undisturbed room 306, Dr. Phillips’ mind is frozen in time, wondering what would have happened had she released the line earlier. Would Jackson have been able to summon help for Dr. King in time to save him?

We will never know the answer to that question. King was not pronounced dead until an hour later, shortly after 7:00 pm central standard time.

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H. Michael Harvey, JD

Harvey is Living Now Book Awards 2020 Bronze Medalist for his memoir Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance. Available at haroldmichaelharvey.com