The Kneeling Man: My Father’s Life as a Black Spy Who Witnessed the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Kneeling Man traces the story of Marrell McCollough, the man kneeling over Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the famous photograph taken at the scene of his assassination, from the perspective of a daughter’s journey to understand her father.
On April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was mortally wounded with a gunshot to the neck while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, as a galvanizing moment immortalized in a photograph. Three figures are above King, straight-armed, pointing to the position of the shooter. One man is kneeling down beside King with a towel pulled off a cleaner’s cart, trying to staunch the blood from the terrible wound.
That kneeling man is Leta McCollough Seletzky’s father.
At 23 years old, Marrell (Mac) McCollough was staying in rooms alongside those of Dr. King’s party, and he was part of The Invaders, a group meeting with King and organizing as part of the Black Power movement. But Mac was also guarding a secret. Unbeknownst to King or his people, Mac was also working undercover for the Memphis Police Department, one of a very few Black men employed by the Memphis PD. McCollough went on to a career as a CIA officer, becoming a key figure in conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination but never discussing that day with those closest to him. As decades passed, painful unspoken questions about him germinated in his daughter’s mind. Who exactly was Marrell McCollough of the famous photograph? How could he, a Black man, have spied on Black people on behalf of a mostly white, racist police force? Was there any truth to the conspiracy theories about his involvement in Dr. King’s murder? One day, she finally summoned the courage to ask, and together they crossed worlds of secrecy, distance, and time to explore the answers.
- Unedited manuscript available