The press is always curious and writers — what went on? What did you talk about? I say, we just talked preacher talk. What preachers talk about when they get together, revivals and all the like. About a quarter of six we walked on the balcony, and he was talking to people in the courtyard.
He stood here, and I stood there. Only as I moved away so he could have a clear shot, the shot rang out.”
—Reverend Samuel “Billy” Kyles, on videotape discussing the 30th Anniversary Commemoration of the Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I’ve met Reverend Kyles. Shook his hand. Right on the grounds of the National Civil Rights Museum, set up within and around the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
I was almost five months old when Dr. King was murdered.
Until reading the above referenced quotation, taken from a transcript of a video tape of a news conference where Rev. Kyles is discussing plans for an upcoming commemoration of Dr. King’s assassination, the question of “who killed Dr. King” was best left to the conspiracy theorists. You know the kind: the sort-of-pudgy, sort-of-pasty, chain-smoking paranoid people who watched one too many Oliver Stone movies, and who probably should be in therapy.
At least, that was my opinion of conspiracy theories until I encountered this quotation. When I did, it left my head spinning. I started reading the entire transcripts of King v. Jowers, the wrongful death civil suit that the King family successfully litigated against Lloyd Jowers. The suit was brought against Mr. Jowers after he revealed on a national news show that he was involved in a conspiracy to assassinate Dr. King.
A jury of twelve Americans, just normal, average people, found after days and weeks of testimony that there was a conspiracy to assassinate Dr. King that involved local, state and governmental authorities.
What would drive twelve normal, average Americans, who had nothing to gain by deciding one way or another on the assassination of Dr. King, to decide that their government conspired to kill him?
Maybe it was the same evidence that Dr. William Pepper uncovered when he first interviewed James Earl Ray and decided to take him on as a client. Maybe it was the same evidence Reverend James Lawson, who worked alongside Dr. King, was troubled by and recounted during the King v. Jowers trial:
A. [By Rev. Lawson] Yes. Almost immediately there were things that troubled me about the assassination. I learned within the next day, next twenty-four hours, that his normal security group from the police department had not been assigned.
I learned that one or two firemen, and I’ve not tried to check on these details, but one or two fire then who were in the fire station across the street katty-cornered from the motel, black firemen, were transferred from that station in ways that at least those firemen thought was unusual. They contacted me and Ralph Jackson and one or two others about their removal. They were not what they considered to be normal removals. The fire station let’s say was over here and the motel here. It had clear vision.
I learned that Ed Redditt, who was on surveillance from the fire station, was moved an hour before. I learned that patrol cars that were in the region when he was there patrolling on Mulberry and Main and what not suddenly disappeared, were nowhere to be found.
I discovered that on April the 4th, the night of that day, that there was on the police band the notice of a white Mustang fleeing the city in the north who got away. There was never any explanation of how that call got on the police band. Ostensibly it was accessible only to the police.
Well, now I know that there were two white Mustangs. I’ve met the drivers of both of them quite some time ago. The one driver was James Earl Ray. I visited him in prison. I can’t remember the name of the other driver, but I sat in an airport in Nashville two or three years ago with the second driver of the second white Mustang, and he told me who he was, why he was in Memphis and whose car this belonged to. We know now that there were two white Mustangs in Memphis on the April the 4th evening.
These questions were never answered to my satisfaction. I pondered them. I wondered why when Martin King had stayed more often in the Admiral Benbow and in the Rivermont, I wondered where this letter came from or where this report in the newspaper came from about why is this civil rights leader not staying in the perfectly good negro motel, why is he staying at that white motel. I wondered about that.
I wondered how they had two or three different names for whoever they were seeking, how did that go on? What was that about? Then when they captured James Earl Ray and they came to the prison, they fixed up — they had him in the county jail, and they fixed up a special cell with twenty-four-hour surveillance, no privacy, twenty-four-hour lights. He had no privacy whatsoever. He complained.
I kick myself now that I did not go down to the county jail and talk to William Morris about why this was going on. It reminded me of something quite specific. It reminded me of the brainwashing that our GI’s had in the Korean War…
…When I saw this, I was astonished. I said to myself, what is going on here?
This is the man, why are they torturing him. That was brainwashing from Korean experience according to the things I read from our GI’s. If they’ve got the evidence about him, why not just simply go to trial.
Then when they had the plea-bargaining business, I said to myself, here is this justice system, the most important American perhaps other than the President of the United States has been killed, and they are going to have a plea-bargaining instead of a full-scale trial so that a court of law can tell us, can give us a full transcript of what that murder is about.
So these things bewildered me and made me upset.
All of the facts of the assassination that Rev. Lawson mentions in his testimony were also established in King v. Jowers. Maynard Stiles, retired Division Superintendent for the City of Memphis Department of Sanitation testified that he received a telephone call from Inspector Sam Evans of the Memphis Police Department at 7 am on April 5, 1968, the morning after Dr. King was assassinated, instructing him to have the thick brush and debris, which on the hillside directly facing Dr. King’s room and the balcony where he breathed his last, removed. Floyd Newsom a former City of Memphis firefighter, and former Chief of the Memphis Fire Department Norville Wallace testified that they were indeed removed form the fire station, which overlooked the infamous balcony of the Lorraine Motel, shortly before Dr. King’s assassination, even though the fire station was under-manned. Ed Redditt, retired detective from the Memphis Police Department, who had been assigned to ensure Dr. King’s safety testified that:
So I went across the street and asked the Fire Department could we [Detective Redditt and Officer Richmond] come in and observe from the rear, which we did…
Detective Redditt conducted surveillance with Officer Richmond the days of April 3 and April 4, 1968. He goes onto recount what happened shortly before Dr. King’s assassination on April 4:
Q. Would you describe how that came about, just how you were removed and did you have any advance notice of it or what happened?
A. Well, that morning I received a phone call on the pay phone in the fire station, and the voice on the other end was saying that we’re going to kill you. That’s about the size of that. I’d go back to where I was. Later on that day Lieutenant Arkin came by and stated I was needed at the headquarters. I said, for what? He said, well, director wants to see you…
Q. …Did you have threats on your life from time to time?
A. That’s part of a policeman’s job.
Q. Did you take them seriously?
A. Not really. If you do, you need to resign. That’s the way I felt.
Q. So it wasn’t that unusual that you would get that kind of — have that kind of threat?
A. Nothing unusual.
Q. Okay. Now, who was with Lieutenant Arkin when he carried you down to central headquarters?
A. He was alone.
Q. He was alone. Was he an officer to whom you reported on a regular basis from this assignment, as a result of this assignment?
A. He wasn’t one of the ones I would directly report to. He worked in intelligence.
Q. Okay. When you got down to central headquarters, where did you go?
A. We went to the conference room.
Q. And who was in the conference room?
A. There were a group of men, I would assume many of them law enforcement. Once we arrived and got inside, Director Holloman stated that there was a man there who had just flown in and there was a contract on my life and that they had prepared to send my family to safety and that I was to go home. At that point I told him that — he knew as well as I did that you couldn’t stop a contract and it was best for me to go back to where I was…
Q. What did Director Holloman say to that?
A. We had a brief argumentation. He said, well, you going home anyway, it is my job to protect you, so, Lieutenant Arkin, take him home.
Q. He didn’t want to hear about your objections?
Q. …Did you learn where the threat came from, where this information came from?
A. A couple of years ago.
Q. Now, would this person who conveyed the threat, was he a local person?
A. I never seen him before. They say he had flown in from the Washington D.C. and said he was from the Secret Service Division.
Q. He had flown in from Washington and he was from the Secret Service Division. He was the one who told — brought the information about the threat on your life?
Q. The reason why they removed you?
A. That’s correct
Q. If I advice you that the records have indicated that the person was a man named Phillip Manuel, would that name ring a bell with you?
A. Manual sounds familiar.
Q. What happened next?
A. We proceeded to my home in his cruiser. I was waiting for the arrival of those persons who were supposed to be my security. While waiting there, the radio blasted that Dr. King had been shot. I jumped out of the car and ran in the house, because my mother-in-law was in the bed sick and I didn’t want her to hear the news.
As I got inside the house, she screamed out, Lord, take me, don’t take Dr. King, because we had forgot she had a small transistor radio under her pillow. In fact, she died a week later.
Q. Who was sitting in the car with you at the time?
A. Lieutenant Arkin.
Q. By himself?
A. By himself.
Q. Had you just pulled up when the news —
A. We had been there a brief time while we was waiting on the guys to come.
Q. You had been there for a brief time and were just waiting. What happened aboutthis threat? Did you go back to work?
A. I called about every hour to come back to work. Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Finally Sunday they said you can come on back. I never heard anything else about it.
Q. You never heard anything else about the threat?
Q. No one ever mentioned it to you again?
A. Not again until two years ago.
Q. But did you ever question officially anyone about this threat?
A. No. Someone mentioned, oh, it wasn’t you anyone, it was somebody in Knoxville, Tennessee, that they had a contract on.
Q. It wasn’t you, it was a mistaken identity?
Q. It was someone in Knoxville, Tennessee?
A. Then I heard again it was somebody in St. Louis.
There’s more in these trial transcripts. They tell of Merrell McCollough, the man kneeling beside Dr. King in the famous photo of his assassination, checking his vital signs. Mr. McCollough was actually working for military intelligence and whose mission was to infiltrate the Invaders, a group of young people were in Memphis to help provide additional security for Dr. King and civil rights workers during the Sanitation Strike. Mr. McCollough was later hired by the CIA in 1974, and his employment in the CIA was independently verified by Sam Donaldson.
There is so much material in these transcripts it is difficult to sum up in one short diary. So to close tonight as I post this, the evening of April 4, 2005, I’ll just ask a request from my friends in the blogosphere: please read these transcripts. Investigate Dr. King’s assassination for yourselves. Look at the Church Committee reports, and see the information contained in Dr. William Pepper’s “An Act of State” and Dexter Scott King’s “Growing Up King”.
After reviewing all of the evidence, decide for yourself: is our government capable of conspiring to assassinate Dr. King? Did it have the motive and means? Does the evidence point toward this conclusion?
Whatever conclusions you find, please share them with others. Gannon, Iraq, Abu Ghraib…these current events have roots that extend deep in our nation’s history.
Investigating the assassination of Dr. King is a vital step in understanding this history.