The photographer, Henry Groskinsky, was on assignment 46 years ago today in Alabama and drove 200 miles to the crime scene with a reporter.
When they arrived at the scene—much to their surprise—they were given what the Life magazine referred to as unfettered access to the motel's grounds.
Groskinsky took about a dozen black-and-white pictures of scenes that included King's associates meeting solemnly in the civil rights leader's motel room, the balcony where he stood for the last time and workers cleaning the last of the blood. These photos were first published in 2009.
The photographer told The Associated Press that year he assumed the magazine was releasing the images to accompany its new website.
He theorized, "They [Life] started looking through the archives and …said "What's this? Why wasn't this published at the time of the assassination?"
Since the photos were originally taken, Groskinsky said he 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."
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 Associated Press contributed to this report