About a dozen black-and-white pictures that went online Thursday include scenes of Dr. King's associates meeting solemnly in the civil rights leader's motel room and standing on the balcony where he stood for the last time, and workers cleaning the last of the blood. Today marks the 41st anniversary of the assassination.
The pictures were taken April 4, 1968, by Life photographer Henry Groskinsky, who was on assignment in Alabama with writer Mike Silva when they learned Dr. King had been shot in Memphis and rushed to the scene.
Mr. Groskinsky said Friday he learned about a week ago that the photographs, which he doesn't own, would be made public.
"The only thing I can figure is it might've had something to do with the (anniversary)," he said. "I think with Life opening up that new Web site, they started looking through the archives and ... said, 'What's this? Why wasn't this published at the time of the assassination?' "
A now-famous Associated Press photo, depicting Dr. King's lieutenants pointing in the direction of the assassin, was used by Life and other publications. None of Mr. Groskinsky's images were published, and he said he's glad they are now on display.
"I thought it was great," he said. "Finally, those pictures will see the light of day. People will see what the situation looked like."
It was unclear Friday whether the King family had been consulted before the release of the photos, at least one of which was labeled "disturbing." Attempts to reach Dr. King's children, Bernice, Dexter and Martin III, and sister, Christine King Farris, were unsuccessful.
Mr. Groskinsky said he has talked to Mr. Silva about the experience over the years and pulls out his 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."
Still, he has had time to reflect on his contribution to a watershed moment for the country.
"It's very nice to be a part of history," he said. "Unfortunately, it was a sad part of history. But there was nobody else there. We documented what we could."
The newly published photos include one showing Dr. King's open briefcase, a can of shaving cream on top of neatly folded pajamas and Dr. King's 1963 book Strength to Love peeking from the top of the pocket of the briefcase.