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Friday, April 4, 2008

Did the Military Assassinate Dr. King? Part II

I remember my mother running through the house forty years ago this day, struck with the most emotion that I had ever seen in a person, weeping over the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In one of the great speeches of American history, Robert Kennedy summed up Dr. King's life in two sentences as he addressed a mostly black crowd in Indianapolis – “Dr. Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort.” Forty years later, Dr. King, ironically, would not recognize the world that we live in. His dream, which seemed so distant during the Civil Rights’ struggles of the 1960s, has not quite become a reality; however, it would be dishonest to suggest that America has not made long strides in the direction of fulfilling one of the great ideals of the 20th Century: the dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed; holding a self-evident truth that all men are created equal…the dream that black children would one day live in a nation where they would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content
of their character.

Despite the enormous progress in American race relations, the dream of a color blind society has yet to be achieved. We keep hearing, of Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy, that he may be the country’s first “black” President. In a truly color blind society, Barack’s ethnicity is irrelevant. The media didn’t call President Bush the 43rd white President of America. The attention that has been given to Obama’s skin color demonstrates how much work is necessary to achieve Dr. King’s dream.

The 40-years between Dr. King’s death and Obama’s presidential bid is heroic in one respect; that the descendant of a slave can have a serious prospect of holding the highest public servant position in the country. However, it is tragic in another respect; that the U.S. Government saw Dr. King as a national security threat. At a minimum, one could argue that America helped preserve the climate of hate that caused Dr. King’s death, and at worst, one can argue that she created it. Whether one agrees that America has a level of culpability in his death, one thing is certain, military presence in Memphis on April 4, 1968 is very, very troublesome.

The military spying on an American citizen seems like a paradox of sorts since any concern that Dr. King would fuel social unrest would appear to fall under the responsibility of the FBI. Part of the FBI's mission is to provide leadership and law enforcement assistance to federal, state and local agencies; and to perform these responsibilities in a manner that is responsive to the needs of the public and is faithful to the Constitution of the United States. Any concern that Dr. King’s involvement in peaceful, social protests would lead to social unrest would clearly fall under the purview of the FBI and state and local police agencies. Therefore, I am deeply troubled that the military took the lead to spy on Dr. King instead of the FBI, who had monitored his every move since the Birmingham Bus Boycott.

Given the social climate of the 1960s, it is in fact not much of a stretch for people to believe that the military was responsible for Dr. King’s death. What is curious, however, is that James Earl Ray was charged and later convicted of his death; however, the King family later granted him a clemency of sorts, by publicly acknowledging that they did not believe he killed their father/husband. This is dramatic, since Coretta Scott King and her children would have been more closely connected emotionally to Dr. King’s death. Consequently, for them to publicly declare Ray’s innocence, it would suggest that they strongly believed that he was not responsible for his assassination.

Ray claims to have confessed to the murder of Dr. King to prevent the possibility of a capital case, leading to conviction and a possible death sentence. He later recanted his confession and spent the remainder of his life trying to obtain a trial in order to prove his innocence. Twenty years after his verdict, a friend of Dr. King, Dr. William Pepper, began an intense research effort to help secure a trial for Ray in order to clear his name. In the process, Pepper discovered evidence that led to a wrongful death civil suit by the King family in 1999. The centerpiece of the civil suit was a bar owner named Loyd Jowers, who claims to have disposed of the murder weapon at the request of a local mob figure.

Pepper called dozens of witnesses and according to Publishers Weekly, they contributed to a forceful, detailed case that accused the FBI, the CIA, the U.S. military, the Memphis police, and local and national organized crime leaders. And after only an hour of deliberation, the jury found for the King family. In order to suppress any claims that they were in it for the money, the family only sought $100 in the suit. They wanted the facts of the case to receive wide circulation. However, in what should have been one of the biggest news stories of the decade, it barely made it beyond one news cycle. Determined to enlighten the public on the facts of his research and subsequent trial, Pepper wrote An Act of State, The Execution of Martin Luther King, a comprehensive examination into the assassination of Dr. King.

As we remember the death of a great American patriot, there are still many unanswered questions, like –

· Why were Floyd E. Newman and Norvell E. Wallace, black firefighters who worked at Fire Station 2, directly across the street from the Lorraine Hotel, telephoned at home on the night of April 3, 1968 and advised that they had been temporarily transferred to fire stations far removed from the Lorraine Hotel?

· If James Earl Ray was the lone assassin, then who placed sophisticated listening devices on Dr. King’s telephone and television in his room at the Lorraine Hotel?

· What was the United States Army doing in Memphis on April 4, 1968?

· Why did Walter Fauntroy, who chaired the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) that investigated Dr. King’s death, believe that Ray did not kill Dr. King, but that there was a larger conspiracy that “possibly involved federal law enforcement agencies?”

· What about reports that the FBI sent a swat team to Tennessee’s Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary to shoot Ray after an escape to prevent his testimony at the HSCA hearings?

· Why did Carthel Weeden, captain of Fire Station 2 take two U.S. Army officers to the roof of the fire station on the morning of April 4, 1968, which gave them a perfect line of sight to Dr. King’s balcony doorway?

· Why did the Army’s 111th Military Intelligence Group keep Dr. King under 24 hour surveillance during 1968?

· Why did the owner of Jim’s Grill (the back door of which opened into the dense bushes across from the Lorraine Motel), Loyd Jowers, tell Sam Donaldson on Prime Time Live in 1993 that he had been asked to help murder Dr. King and was told that there would be a decoy (Ray) in the plot if it was not true?

· Is it true that Merrell McCullough, an undercover Memphis Police Department officer, who later began working with the CIA, infiltrated a Memphis community organizing group, the Invaders, which was working with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference? (Note: McCullough can be seen holding Dr. King’s head in the famous photograph of him lying on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel.)

(To keep the above bullet points from reading like a trial transcript, I simply offered a summary; however Probe Magazine published an expose of the King Family’s wrongful death suit against Loyd Jowers, which brought to light a number of questionable events that I have identified. Also, the King Center has published an online transcript of the court proceedings.)

The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a constant reminder that we live in a very cruel world, where ambitions, aspirations and dreams can come in for a crash landing in an instant. The power of Dr. King’s life, however, demonstrated that his was sprinkled with God’s grace, which caused it to be immortalized in the lives of, not just his family, but all men and women of good will. The world was truly a better place with him in it, and ironically, because of his life, the world became an even better place when he left it – what a great epitaph to have engraved on ones gravestone; however, that choice is yours.

As I leave this series on Dr. King’s assassination, I wish to offer a tribute to his legacy by quoting one of my favorite passages from his many speeches – “An individual has not started living fully until they can rise above the narrow confines of individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of humanity. Every person must decide, at some point, whether they will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgement. Life=s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’@

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