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Essay: The Unsettling Justice in the Assassination of MLK

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  • Published: 15 September 2019*
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  • Tags: Martin Luther King Essays

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The Unsettling Justice in the Assassination of MLK

Despite the fact that James Earl Ray was convicted guilty of assassinating Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, there is an unsettling suspicion of there being more to the story than just a random man motivated by racism wanting to murder the face of the Civil Rights Movement—ultimately, this has sparked many conspiracy theories, with doubts coming from King’s family themselves. There has always been an intuition by many that the United States government played a role in the murder, but with recent documentation released in recent years regarding the Federal Bureau of Investigation, specifically a jarring letter written directly to King, that intuition has only expanded. In the letter the FBI repeatedly states, “you are done,” conclusively giving King an ultimatum of “34 days” to end his own life, otherwise details of his personal life would be released to the public.  How is it that even a government institution meant to protect the people of the United States was fueled with enough racism and bigotry to write a horrific suicide note, perhaps even leading to the plot of the assassination of King four years later? Although there was a convicted murderer in King’s assassination, the Civil Rights Movement represents an exceedingly racist America given support that the governmental agency known as the FBI may have ultimately been behind the assassination of the prominent figure.

The context behind the recent release of the letter itself supports the conspiracy claim of the FBI targeting King. The late 1964 letter is composed of many allegations directed to King that would supposedly be released to the public and intentionally attempt to ruin his image to the point of suicide. John Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI at the time, was not fond of the Civil Rights leader, nor the Civil Rights Movement in general—he used his standing as the CEO to push his own agenda, including that of COINTELPRO to track the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s every move and, ultimately, King’s.  The Select Committee on Assassinations even stated, “the Bureau grossly abused and exceeded its legal authority.”  With the connection of the COINTELPRO and the FBI, it may lead some to the question of whether or not King really did play a role in committing adultery and influencing communism since there was such a close eye on his life. But it leads to the bigger question of whether the FBI further abused their power of being a top government agency to ultimately murder King under Hoover’s authority. Some may argue that King is a hypocrite for being a God-driven man and supposedly committing an action the Bible considers a sin. And while the FBI did use King’s relations with previous Communist-influenced advisors to back their usage of surveillance, there are no signs that King himself was a communist. In King’s speech “Communism’s Challenge to Christianity,” he puts a fine line between being a communist and being a Christian stating that people “must try to understand communism, but never… accept it.”  Attacking communism while also addressing his faith put King at a Christian standard and allowed him to repress any rumors and any association with it. The fact that Hoover had to play on King’s personal life and relations with others in an attempt to have him end his own life demonstrates that the letter was very well spurred by high racial scheme. When 34 days passed and King was still well and alive, perhaps it was the years in-between the shooting that led to careful plotting of an assassination fueled by the progression of African American rights after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Going back to get an understanding of the context of James Earl Ray can further lead to suspicion of governmental conspiracy. Soon after the murder, an investigation went full scale, coincidentally including the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI were given vital clues regarding the King assassination, including evidence and other various pieces of information. Specifically fingerprints, photographs, and even the bullet that killed King all underwent FBI laboratories and forensics.  With the known tension between FBI director Hoover and Civil Rights leader King, it is questionable if Hoover, again, advanced his own agenda to ultimately hide the critical evidence connected with the assassination of King. It is unknown whether the FBI actually put in their full effort in order to attain justice for the Civil Rights leader. If the real information regarding the evidence was actually concealed and/or destroyed, this maintains the idea of a deeper assassination plot. This then leads to the question of what James Earl Ray’s role was in the entire situation.

If there was a conspiracy that occurred, the capacity of James Earl Ray’s role is not known. Ray, a convicted burglar and prison escapee, was said to have spent almost $9000, which he was suspected of stealing as well, in the fourteen months he was a free man.  As a man fresh out of a prison having to secretly start a new life, it is challenging and difficult. How did he purloin enough money to purchase clothes, shoes, a car, gas, and ultimately the rifle that killed King?   Conceivably, he was paid as part as the conspiracy theory that the government funded him to live life on the one condition to join in the assassination of killing King. But as the end tells, it did not work out in his favor when he was solely the one found guilty. The court looked into his history of previous crimes that he committed as primary reasoning of marking out the idea of a paid assassination.  If Ray truly wanted to stay on the down low, then it would make sense not to commit more criminal activity, especially to the extent of stealing enough money to fly off across the world post-assassination. But maybe the FBI purposely chose and funded an escapee with the perfect background of little education and a money stealing past in order to fit with the scenario of the FBI’s scheme of the assassination. And maybe Ray never fired a single shot at King and Ray was just at the wrong place at the wrong time, making him seem like he was the murderer. In the court case for an indictment of Ray’s murder of King, Ray states that a man who went by the name of “Raoul” set everything up, leaving Ray in the dust to be convicted of the murder.  Raoul was the main subject at an attempt for Ray to be released of charges of assassinating King, with Ray arguing that Raoul shot King, not him.   This mysterious figure does show up again in a later case as well. The aftermath of the trial included 99 years in prison for Ray, but he also had a wish for retrial. Those who saw Ray as innocent include the King family, Ray’s attorney Mark Lane, and SCLC officials Ralph Albernathy and James Bevel.  With such a convenient list of people that hits close to the case, one would think that a re-trial would go underway, but, unfortunately, that was never the case.

Fast-forward almost thirty years after that James Earl Ray pleaded guilty in the assassination of King, King’s family brought forth another trial in an attempt to gain justice for the late Civil Rights leader in 1998. Loyd Jowers, a restaurant owner near King’s assassination, revealed information relating to a conspiracy, with the involvement of “Raul,” in an interview with CBS, which led to the King v. Jowers trial.  Jowers states that he was “involved in [the assassination] indirectly” by supposedly working with individuals connected to the government, specifically the FBI, as well as with the mafia.  The most important piece of information that came out through this case was the reoccurring subject of Raul, who was previously introduced by James Earl Ray, who Jowers described as the “scapegoat,” w
hen he was first convicted.  The peculiar individual was investigated through the Department of Justice and was said that Raul could be “identified as many as 20 different persons…” from those working for the CIA to those working as a scientist.  With the mystery of Raul, it seems that the conspiracy of King’s assassination may have been a bigger story than just one or two people who had the horrific intention of killing King. Or perhaps each step of the conspiracy theory was carefully traced by pinpointing it onto others, such as the twenty people that could be Raul, the real alleged killer of King. It is highly coincidental that the subject of Raul comes up even after thirty years of Ray’s conviction and his denial of shooting King, especially how eerily similar the stories are able to match up. Unfortunately, the case was dismissed based on insufficient evidence and was seen as personal promotional publicity.  Again, the little evidence available leads back to the FBI, who supposedly examined a majority of the key items within the investigation. The prejudice that FBI director Hoover had for King plays a huge factor in the entire case. The Department of Justice also were aware that Jowers was a man that was ill and of old age, yet they saw the dying man’s intentions for the whole case as a way to gain income.

With the given specific details surrounding King’s death, it is evidential that James Earl Ray may have been wrongly accused for the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Given the recent FBI letter that emerged only a few short years ago, it seems to appear that the FBI may have been the suspect all along. By taking into account the FBI’s overall outlook on King, including the letter, the COINTELPRO, and the director’s personal views, there is great suspicion coming from the governmental agency itself. But could it be that the conspiracy could stretch beyond suspicion of the FBI to even the president at the time? In 1964 during a phone call between President Lyndon and his press secretary, Lyndon denounces the release of information to the press that he and King have “been in touch” even though Lyndon very well knows for a fact that they have.  Judging by the fact that Lyndon does not want Americans to know that he and King have a simple relationship tells of their personal relationship overall. With knowledge of the Presidential bias, as well as the FBI’s on the topic of Martin Luther King, it seems that the government at-large had some kind of tension with the great Civil Rights leader. This poses the question of whether or not the FBI was just a small part in a bigger story. But whether or not there is a bigger story than just a racially fueled man looking to assassinate the greatest leader of the twentieth century, people can only connect the dots of the known “evidence” from here to see the assassination from a different perspective, rather than just a one-man job.

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