On the 50th anniversary of Rev. King’s assassination, isn’t it time we looked the truth of who killed him more squarely in the face? Are we strong enough now to do that? Can we spiritually handle these truths?
Catholic theologian, activist, author, and historian Jim Douglass spent November and December 1999 attending the only trial ever held for the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
It took place in Memphis, only a few blocks from the Lorraine Motel where he was killed. In a wrongful death lawsuit initiated by the King family, 70 witnesses testified over a six-week period. They described a sophisticated government plot that involved the FBI and CIA, the Memphis Police, Mafia intermediaries, and an Army Special Forces sniper team.
The twelve jurors, six black and six white, returned after two and one-half hours of deliberation with a verdict that King had been assassinated by a conspiracy that included agencies of his own government.
Since 1999, “the evidence and verdict of that trial have been public knowledge. The trial’s entire transcript has been posted at thekingcenter.com. It has been massively ignored. No one wants to deal with its implications. An understanding of the nature of King’s assassination would threaten the roots of our systemic violence,” writes Douglass.
Below is an excerpt from Jim Douglass’ speech King and the Cross.
… We need to know how Martin was killed.
He was, first of all, set up.
When Martin Luther King went to Memphis on March 28, 1968, to march with the striking sanitation workers, government provocateurs infiltrated the march. The provocateurs broke windows, disrupted the march, and provoked a police riot. The violence made it necessary for King to return to Memphis on April 3, to prepare for a truly nonviolent march that would prove SCLC could carry out a nonviolent Poor People’s Campaign in Washington. By being forced to return to Memphis, King was being set up for his assassination.
He was also channeled into registering at the Lorraine Motel. On the day after the disrupted march, an FBI-authored article was passed to news media that read:
The fine Hotel Lorraine in Memphis is owned and patronized exclusively by Negroes but King didn’t go there from his hasty exit [form the march]. Instead King decided the plush Holiday Inn Motel, white owned, operated and almost exclusively white patronized, was the place to ‘cool it.’ There will be no boycott of white merchants for King, only for his followers.
Although the Lorraine Motel posed security problems, those making King’s arrangements booked him there beginning April 3, just as the FBI wanted.
The Lorraine’s owners, Walter and Lorraine Bailey, initially gave King a more secure inner courtroom behind the motel’s office. However, Martin’s SCLC staff had been infiltrated by the government. On the night before King’s arrival in Memphis, an unidentified male member of King’s staff in Atlanta phoned the Baileys at the Lorraine. The man insisted that King’s room be changed from the (more secure) inside location to an outside balcony room completely exposed to public view. The change was made. The scene was set for April 4.
Martin’s assassination was also preceded by a withdrawal of police security. His ordinary security in Memphis included a special unit of black officers commanded by Memphis Police Captain Jerry Williams. However, for King’s April 3 arrival, Williams was disturbed that he was not asked to form the special black bodyguard.
Moreover, two black firefighters at Fire Station 2, across the street from the Lorraine Motel, were inexplicably transferred early on April 4 to fire stations where they were not needed. In addition, a black Memphis Police Department detective, Ed Redditt, who was watching King’s room from a Fire Station 2 surveillance post, was suddenly removed from his post two hours before King’s murder. The order was given by Memphis Police and Fire Director Frank Holloman, who had recently retired from 25 years with the FBI, seven of them as the supervisor of J. Edgar Hoover’s office. Holloman ordered detective Redditt to go home because, Holloman claimed, Redditt’s life had been threatened. Redditt protested, obeyed the order, and arrived home just as King was shot.
Finally, also on April 4, by order of Frank Holloman’s subordinate, Inspector Sam Evans, the four tactical police units patrolling the Lorraine Motel area were all pulled back, thereby allowing an assassin to escape more easily.
Government agencies facilitated Martin’s murder by the systematic withdrawal of all his normal security. They also plotted his assassination in such a way as to involve the Mafia as intermediaries, providing another layer of cover for the powers that be. The scapegoat was James Earl Ray. If one probed behind him, one could discover a Mafia contract with police connections. Behind the Mafia, in the shadows, were the FBI and CIA. And behind them were the invisible minds and hands ruling the system, fearful of exposure to the light.
Everything was in place on April 4, 1968. The Mafia’s Frank Liberto, a Memphis produce dealer, had sent a courier to deliver $100,000 to Loyd Jowers, the owner of Jim’s Grill whose back door opened onto the dense bushes across the street from the Lorraine Motel. Jowers then received a rifle in a box on April 3 from a man named Raul. It was Raul who also brought the scapegoat, James Earl Ray, into Memphis on April 4, after Raul had shepherded Ray in Canada, the U.S., and Mexico since the previous summer.
We know Loyd Jowers’ role in the King assassination because he confessed to Martin’s son, Dexter King, and former UN Ambassador Andrew Young in a fall 1998 meeting that was tape-recorded. The audiotape was played for the jury at the 1999 trial I attended. In his confession, Jowers said that meetings to plan the assassination took place at Jim’s Grill. The planners included undercover Memphis Police Department Officer Marrell McCollough (who went on to a career with the CIA), Police Lieutenant Earl Clark, a third police officer, and two men who Jowers thought were federal agents.
At 6:00 p.m. on April 4, James Earl Ray was several blocks away at a service station, trying to get a flat spare tire fixed. Unknown to Ray, the fake evidence to scapegoat him had already been left near the entrance to the boarding house where he had rented a room, as we learned from the King trial testimony of Judge Arthur Hanes Jr., Ray’s former attorney. At ten minutes before the assassination, the rifle Ray had bought at Raul’s orders was dropped in the doorway of the Canipe Amusement Company. In the King trial, witness Judge Joe Brown, who had the planted rifle tested, said that because its scope had not been sited, “this weapon literally could not have hit the broad side of a barn.”
At 6:00 p.m., the hired shooter was in the thick brush and bushes directly across from the Lorraine, aiming the real rifle at Martin Luther King, who was standing on the balcony in front of his room. Early the next morning, as established by trial testimony, those same bushes were cut down by order of Police Inspector Sam Evans, thus destroying the crime scene.
Investigating the assassination of Martin Luther King over the past decade has been pilgrimage into martyrdom. From that journey I have learned, first of all, how naïve I was about systemic evil. While there is nothing new about prophets being murdered by the system, I was not aware of how well our own system carries out such murders—and why. …
Read the full transcript.