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Did You Know a South African Lens Recorded MLK’s Assassination?

Eliza Berman | Time   in  · ·
April 4, 2015

On April 4, 1968, a young South African photographer trained his lens on the aftermath of tragedy.

Had Joseph Louw decided to finish his dinner on April 4, 1968, the photographs that captured the horror of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination may never have come to be. Louw, a young South African photographer and filmmaker at work on a documentary about King, had been eating dinner in a Memphis restaurant during the hour before tragedy struck. A sudden urge to watch the NBC nightly news brought him back to the Lorraine Motel, where he soon heard a single shot fired.

Louw, who was staying three doors down from King, immediately rushed onto the balcony, where he saw King collapse to the ground. After realizing there was nothing he could do to help, he ran inside to get his camera. “At first,” he told LIFE the following week, “it was just a matter of realizing the horror of the thing. Then I knew I must record it for the world to see.”

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