Charlotte man reflects on the inspiration, death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

George Shinhoster, a former Charlotte businessman, maintained a close relationship with Dr. King.
More than five decades after his death, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. continues to inspire.
Published: Apr. 28, 2023 at 8:01 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - This weekend wraps up the month of April, reminding us of an important anniversary that impacted the course of American history.

Fifty-five years ago this month marked the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, who was shot and killed at a hotel in Memphis.

Dr. King was no stranger to the Queen City, and was scheduled to in Charlotte on the day he died.

One person who knew him, and who got his marching orders from the civil rights legend is former Charlotte business executive George Shinhoster.

News bulletins were delivered into millions of homes on the night of April 4, 1968, as the tragic newspaper headlines arrived on doorsteps the very next morning.

“When you have worked with someone for a while and, uh, you know, you want to talk about the leader, someone who you respected, and you just could not believe that he was gone,” Shinhoster said.

At the time of King’s death, Shinhoster was a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Staff based in Atlanta, and was among those going into crisis mode.

“It was like trying to find out what in the world happened,” he said. “Did this really happen? Is Doc really gone?”

Andrew Young was close to the civil rights leader and spoke on his trip to Memphis.

“He insisted on going to Memphis, because he wanted to be identified with the poorest of the poor,” Young said.

King was striking, fighting for sanitation for workers, and it was no secret he was staying in Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel, leading his assassin to target him as he stepped out onto a balcony.

Memphis Minister Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles heard the shot and ran to Dr. King’s aid.

“I turn to go down the stairs. I got four or five steps and the shot rang out,” he said recollecting the fatal incident. “People started ducking behind cars. I look back, he had been knocked from the railing back onto the floor. I rushed to his side. There was a gaping hole in the right side of his face.”

It was the end of his life at the young age of 39.

“I was back in Atlanta waiting for, waiting for the body to come back in,” Shinhoster said. “We were in Atlanta when he came, when Doc got back.”

Crowds assemble in Memphis on each anniversary at the Lorraine Motel, and in 2005, former Georgia Congressman John Lewis, who was part of Dr. King;s inner circle, spoke about his friend.

“Dr. King must be looked upon as a man who inspired us years ago and he’s inspiring us today,” said.

His inspiration has endured for countless people in the decades since, including in disciples like Shinhoster.

“It’s hard to believe 55 years,” Shinhoster said. “The time just moves by so, so quickly. You know, things have gone on, things have changed. And you look back and it’s 55 years later.”

Shinhoster is in his 70s now, but still remains engaged, providing tours of places touched by Dr. King even today.

Related: Looking back on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s connections in Charlotte