Photograph by Joseph Louw
It is the first time that visitors to the erstwhile Lorraine Motel, now the National Civil Rights Museum, will be able to stand on the very spot outside Room 306 where King was gunned down by sniper James Earl Ray.
Connie Dyson, the museum's communications coordinator, said the upper-floor balcony will be open from November 19 as the historic landmark in downtown Memphis undergoes a $27 million facelift due to finish in early 2014.
"It is our most unique artifact, the balcony," Dyson told AFP by telephone.
"But with the entire Lorraine building being closed during renovations, we wanted to offer the public an access to the balcony and the room where Dr King stayed, since that was one of the highlights of the (pre-renovation) tour."
With its slightly disheveled bed, black dial-up telephone and unfinished cups of coffee, Room 306 has been left untouched since the evening when King, 39, was fatally shot at the height of the civil rights movement.
"Nobody's ever stayed in the room (since King's death). It's been a shrine ever since," Dyson said.
Visitors who until now could peer into Room 306 via a sealed glass window along the interior hallway will, during the renovations, "get a chance to peek... from the outside," Dyson added.
Ray, a white drifter with a criminal record, was convicted of shooting King with a rifle from a building across the street from the Lorraine. Sentenced to 99 years in prison, he died in April 1998 at the age of 70.
In October 2011 King became the first African American to be honored with a monument along the National Mall in Washington, engraved with words from his stirring 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech for racial equality.
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