Anniversary Post: Martin Luther King Assassination

Martin Luther King JrOn this day in 1968, Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated by James Earl Ray. But did the man with three first names really do it? After all, he spent the last three decades of his life claiming that he didn’t actually do it. Could it have been some conspiracy where he was just the unwitting fall guy? In a word: no.

Ray was an evil man. I’m not referring to his convictions for armed robbery, burglary, and fraud by his mid-20s. These are generally the acts of people without a lot of options. Of course, I have to wonder about that. He was a white man in the 1950s. There was lots of work around at that time. But when he wasn’t in jail or actively thieving, his main interest seemed to be in seeing that George Wallace became president. “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever!” Am I right?!

James Earl RayIn 1959, Ray was given 20 years for yet another armed robbery. But in 1967, he escaped. But he didn’t go into hiding; he went to work for George Wallace’s campaign. And he wasn’t exactly alone in his support for the segregationist. Wallace got 13.5% for the popular vote — 46 votes in the electoral college. But apparently, Ray got bored with this work, made his way to Tennessee and assassinated the civil rights leader with one shot.

Authorities found the rifle that Ray had purchased five days earlier. It had his fingerprints on it. Ballistic tests done a decade later were inconclusive. But witnesses saw a man who looked like him leaving the scene. He had been living in a room where the bullet came from. He fled the country immediately after. Oh, and he confessed. Then later, after trying to convince everyone, he took a lie detector test for Playboy magazine. The results: James Earl Ray murdered Martin Luther King Jr.

We mark this 47th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

2 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: Martin Luther King Assassination

  1. Here’s my odd take. King was already losing media relevance by the time he was killed. He was doing great, brilliant work, but he wasn’t surrounded by the media as he was in his more telegenic days, when the Northern press focused on “those Southerners, my gosh, their form of institutionalized racism is so much more blatant than ours, it’s a crime!”

    King was focusing on the deeper structures of oppression, and the media fled in droves. So it was far more possible, given the lack of mass attention his new work was receiving, for a disturbed individual to take out his imaginary losing-white-prestige status (he needn’t have worried, as it turned out) and blow King away.

    It’s a damn shame King didn’t receive Secret Service protection for the rest of his life. He wasn’t a President, and the Secret Service was a pretty recent thing then. Still, King is far more important than any President we’ve ever had (maybe a few points can be made for FDR, whom some rich/military figures fantasized about doing away with.) He should have gotten Secret Service protection. Gerald Ford did, and both Bushes do, and who the hell would want to assassinate them?

    • That’s an interesting take. It was a different time. I think the far greater care now taken was the result of the Kennedys and King.

      Since the civil rights movement had its huge legislative victories, the media have been very happy to assume that the problem (singular) was fixed. And that’s where they are to this day. Overall, I don’t think much of journalists.

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