The Assassination of Dr. Martin L. King, Jr.

Dr. James Haney

Twenty-five years after the assassination of Martin L. King there are still more questions than answers concerning his death.  I recently interviewed Dr. Lewis Baldwin, associate professor of religious studies at Vanderbilt University, and Anna Ray, the former wife of convicted killer James Earl Ray, concerning King's death.
King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, and Baldwin believes the events leading up to his assassination are critical in determining why he was killed.  Over the last several years Baldwin has written extensively on the life and death of King.  Says Baldwin: "I think that if you are going to talk about the events leading up to the assassination, you must talk about the radicalization of Dr. King during the last three years of his life, from 1965 to 1968." King became more radical in two respects: "First, his vision of the 'ideal' society became  more comprehensive, and second, his methods for achieving this society changed."
King's vision of a just society moved beyond an integrated society through designation for blacks in the South to one in which there would be a "completely democratic society for all Americans.  Second, he moved beyond the philosophy of nonviolence and direct action to call for massive civil disobedience and nonviolent sabotage during the final years before his assassination."
Baldwin contends that this "radicalization" of King's philosophy served as the basis for his assassination in Memphis.  "He began to call for a restructuring of society, the restructuring of the capitalistic system in the interest of the poor.  He also attacked U.S. involvement in Vietnam."
The King assassination falls into two categories: the lone assassin-" theory, in which James Earl Ray acted alone in carrying out the, deadly assault upon King's life, and the conspiracy theory.  "In the early' 1970s a poll was taken and only one of five Americans believed that James Earl Ray acted alone in the assassination of Dr. King," notes Baldwin.  "Most Americans tended to lean toward the conspiracy theory, feeling that the FBI and other governmental forces were somehow involved in the masterminding ... and implementation of this tragedy."
Most scholars agree that King was assassinated by James Earl Ray, says Baldwin, "although Ray wrote a book entitled Who Killed Martin Luther- King? in which he contends that he was not responsible for Dr. King's death."
William Bradford Huey wrote a book in 1968 called. He killed the Dreamer.   "The title of the book was indicative of the conclusion he drew concerning Ray's responsibility for Dr. King's death." Huey argued that Ray killed King to get attention  and recognition, observes Dr. Baldwin.
Anna Ray does not believe justice is being served in the death of King.  Before her recent divorce, Anna Ray was married to James Earl Ray for 15 years.  She was a courtroom artist for a CBS affiliate in Knoxville when she met him during the taping of a CBS News documentary.  She married Ray because she felt he was innocent and had, been "set up" by conspirators and  railroaded" into prison.  She later changed her mind after Ray told her he had killed King and threatened to kill her.  In discussing the events surrounding King's death, Ray admitted his guilt with the statement: "Yeah, I killed him.  But what if I did; I never got a trial," she quotes James Earl Ray.
"This was long after we had been married and it was by telephone." She says she met Ray's brother, Jerry Ray, two years after her marriage to James, and had she known Jerry Ray before her marriage "there never would have been a marriage."Jerry Ray lived with J.B. Stoner in Marrietta, Georgia," she explains,and Mr. Stoner ... was arrested for the bombing of a church in the Deep South in which several black children were killed.  Jerry Ray made a comment in my home that Adolf Hitler was a great man and more famous than Jesus Christ. He  said that the United States of America should do the same thing with the black people that Hitler did with the Jews in Germany."
She says James Earl Ray became angry with her when she told him that she did not appreciate Jerry Ray's attitude.  "I do know that when I would call Jerry Ray in Marrietta, Georgia, he would answer, 'Raoul,' and that there was a man by the name of John Paul Spiggott, who had mob connections and knew James Earl Ray in the federal pen in Jefferson City, Missouri.  He is the man who gave James the information that there was a $50,000 'hit' on the life of Dr. King," contends Anna Ray.
Anna Ray is not certain who was to pay the $50,000, but the assassination committee that investigated King's death identified a "group of Nashville based businessmen,  and Mr. Southerland was one of those businessmen," she says "He is now deceased. During my marriage to James Earl Ray I have had people tell me in private - these are nice people, upstanding people, people with power - 'I don't think he should be in prison for killing a nigger, and I don't believe that he should serve a day.  I think he should have a million dollars  and a ticket to any place in the world he wants to go, and a medal,"  she reports.
Anna Ray believes that Jerry Ray is one of the conspirators and that his flight from the law as a fugitive is financed by James Earl Ray through the sale of his book on the assassination of King.  Also, "Jerry Ray has threatened my life and has actually aimed a gun at me. ... He has shot someone since James has been in prison," she claims.  "The conspiracy is between James, his brother, his family and hardened criminals," asserts Anna Ray.
Shortly after the government initiated the investigation into King's death, "Spiggott was murdered in a car bomb attack," she continues.  "James put in his book that Spiggott paid dearly for his greed by his refusal to sell a taped interview between himself- -and federal investigators concerning the assassination of Dr. King." Anna Ray contends that "there was a relationship between Jerry Ray's flight to see Spiggott and his car bomb death in St. Louis at the same time."
"I think that  the investigation into Dr. King's assassination has somehow been bungled," says Baldwin.  "'There are still more questions than there are answers.  The investigation was not carried out properly.  Ray was not questioned properly in the course of the trial. ... Most scholars I have read argue that the case should be reopened."
Dr. James Haney, writer
*As Seen in "Taking Time to Comment"
Column of the Metropolitan Times, Nashville, Tennessee 
Contact Me
Fax (615) 963-5497
Telephone (615) 963-5514
WZTV, Ch. 17, (FOX), Nashville, Tennessee
WUXP, Ch. 30, (UPN), Nashville, Tennessee
Main Index
A Comments Production, 1998