Honor MLK by Studying the 1999 Civil Trial

Coretta Scott King: “We have done what we can to reveal the truth, and we now urge you as members of the media, and we call upon elected officials, and other persons of influence to do what they can to share the revelation of this case to the widest possible audience.”    – King Family Press Conference, Dec. 9, 1999.

How many Americans know that in 1999 a jury in a civil suit brought by the family of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. decided that a retired Memphis cafe owner was part of a conspiracy in the 1968 killing of Dr. King? How many Americans know that more than one governmental agency was also implicated in the shooting? In fact, the legal team representing the King family presented the following startling revelations :

  • US 111th Military Intelligence Group were at Dr. King’s location during the assassination.
  • 20th Special Forces Group had an 8-man sniper team at the assassination location on that day.
  • Usual Memphis Police special body guards were advised they “weren’t needed” on the day of the assassination.
  • Regular and constant police protection for Dr. King was removed from protecting Dr. King an hour before the assassination.
  • Military Intelligence set-up photographers on a roof of a fire station with a clear view to Dr. King’s balcony.
  • Dr. King’s room was changed from a secure 1st-floor room to an exposed balcony room.
  • Memphis police ordered the scene where multiple witnesses reported as the source of shooting cut down of their bushes that would have hid a sniper.
  • Along with sanitizing a crime scene, police abandoned investigative procedure to interview witnesses who lived by the scene of the shooting.
  • The rifle Mr. Ray delivered was not matched to the bullet that killed Dr. King, and was not sighted to accurately shoot.

After four weeks of testimony and one hour of deliberation, the jury in the wrongful-death case found that Loyd Jowers as well as ”others, including governmental agencies” had been part of a conspiracy. The jury awarded the King family the damages they had sought: $100, which the family donated to charity.

The NYT reported that the King family had long questioned Mr. Ray’s conviction and hoped the suit would change the legal and historical record of the assassination.”This is a vindication for us,” said Dexter King, the youngest son of Dr. King.

And what about James Earl Ray? After being transferred from a maximum security prison hospital he died at the Columbia Nashville Memorial Hospital in Nashville on April 23, 1998, at the age of 70, from complications related to Kidney disease and liver failure caused by hepatitis C. Ray was cremated and his ashes were flown to Ireland, the home of his family’s ancestors. Ten years later, Ray’s other brother, John Larry Ray, co-authored a book with Lyndon Barsten, titled Truth At Last: The Untold Story Behind James Earl Ray and the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. revealing what the former author knew about the assassination.

There can be no peace without justice. Until the nation is able to come to terms with the facts of MLK’s assassination, we will not be able to honor his legacy appropriately. Service projects are wonderful. Candlelight vigils are beautiful. Concerts and fundraisers are inspiring. I am sure that Dr. King would be pleased with all of these positive actions to help build the “Beloved Community.” However, until we are able to come to terms with the real circumstances of his murder our society will not be capable of meeting its most difficult challenges. For what kind of democracy allows its military to openly take out one of the nation’s most respected leaders without any justification whatsoever?

MLK once said: “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

So do I. One of the ways that unarmed truth will have the final word is if we refuse to accept the manufactured version of what happened on April 4, 1968 in Memphis. Until this unthinkable crime against humanity is finally unmasked for being a political assassination ordered at the highest levels of our government, the starless midnight of racism and war will continue to engulf King’s dream in an empty chasm of  hopeless darkness.

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