By ROLAND SHEPPARD
From the time of Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968, the many inconsistencies in the government’s assertion that James Earl Ray was the sole assassin have been well publicized.
In 1979, after the FBI’s “Cointelpro” disruption operations were exposed, the House of Representatives’ Select Committee on Assassinations, under pressure from these exposures and the civil rights movement, convened an “investigation” with the purpose of reconfirming the government’s version of the murder.
Immediately after it released the report, affirming that Ray was the lone assassin, this committee sealed all of the evidence it had in its possession for 50 years (until 2029). Thus, we were left with nothing but the “integrity” of the members of Congress to justify their conclusions rather than the facts.
More recently, however, new facts on King’s assassination came to light.
On Dec. 8, 1999, a jury awarded Coretta Scott King and her family $100 in damages resulting from a conspiracy to murder her late husband. The trial was initiated by the admission of Lloyd Jowers on national TV in 1993 that he had hired King’s assassin as a favor to an underworld figure who was a friend.
At the conclusion of the trial, Dexter King, Dr. King’s son, said, “After today, we don’t want questions like, ‘Do you believe James Earl Ray killed your father?’ I’ve been hearing that all my life. No, I don’t, and this is the end of it. This was the most incredible cover-up of the century, and now it has been exposed. Now we can finally move on with our lives.”
The King family, along with their attorney, William Pepper, plan to lobby historians and elected officials to get the official record of the assassination changed.
There have always been many unanswered questions about King’s assassination. From the beginning it was clear that the FBI was involved to one degree or another. The FBI “leaked” the information to the Memphis, Tenn., press that King was going to be staying at a “white hotel” a couple of days prior to his arrival in the city. This forced King to stay at the less secure Lorraine Motel.
The question remains: Why would the government be part of the conspiracy against King? Why would they want him dead?
A key to understanding the government’s motive is that Martin Luther King had a different political perspective at the time of his death than when he made his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. His final speeches and actions reveal that he, like Malcolm X, had begun to view the struggle for equality as an economic struggle and the capitalist economic system as the problem.
At a speech given at Stanford University in April 1967-one year before his death-titled the “The Other America,” King addressed the problem of the rich and the poor in this country. Instead of his “dream,” he talked about the nightmare of the economic conditions suffered by Blacks.
He alluded to “work-starved men searching for jobs that did not exist,” about the Black population living on a “lonely island of poverty surrounded by an ocean of material prosperity,” and about living in a “triple ghetto of race, poverty, and human misery.”
He explained that after World War II, the unemployment rate of Blacks and whites was equal and that in the years between then and 1967, Black unemployment had become double the rate for whites. He also spoke about how Black workers made half the wages of white workers.
From his experience when he started his campaign for equality in Chicago and elsewhere in the North, King concluded in this speech that to deal with this problem of the “Two Americas” was “much more difficult than to get rid of legal segregation.” He pointed out that the northern liberals, who had given moral and financial support to the struggle against Jim Crow in the South, would not give such support to the efforts to end economic segregation.
In this speech King also opposed the war in Vietnam. He criticized the government for spending hundreds of millions of dollars for war and not for equality. He stated his goal “to organize and mobilize forces to fight for economic equality.”
In his last letter, requesting support for the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” in 1968, he wrote: “It is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man to pick himself up by his own bootstraps.” “Black people”, he said, “were impoverished aliens in their own land.”
A year earlier, King described the course that he was planning to take in the fight for economic equality: “It was obdurate government callousness to misery that first stoked the flames of rage and frustration. With unemployment a scourge in Negro ghettos, the government still tinkers with half-hearted measures, refuses still to become an employer of last resort. It asks the business community to solve the problems as though its past failures qualified it for success.
“We’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life’s marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. Who owns this oil? … Who owns the iron ore? … Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two-thirds water?”
“There is nothing but a lack of social vision to prevent us from paying an adequate wage to every American citizen whether he be a hospital worker, laundry worker, maid, or day laborer. “There is nothing except shortsightedness to prevent us from guaranteeing an annual minimum-and livable-income for every American family. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities
“The coalition of an energized section of labor, Negroes, unemployed, and welfare recipients may be the source of power that reshapes economic relationships and ushers in a breakthrough to a new level of social reform.”
These words have even more meaning in today’s world. At that time, the stock market was below 1000 points. Today it is above 10,000 points, and yet living conditions for millions of African Americans are still lower than after World War II.
At the time of their assassinations, both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were embarking on a course in opposition to the capitalist system. It is clear from reading and listening to their final speeches that they had both evolved to similar conclusions of capitalism’s role in the maintenance of racism. That is why they were “neutralized.”
Unlike Malcolm X, who never got the opportunity to act upon his convictions, Martin Luther King was organizing a movement to obtain his stated goals when he was assassinated in Memphis. He was in Memphis to build “the coalition of an energized section of labor, Negroes, unemployed, and welfare recipients” in support of municipal garbage workers on strike.
If such a force had been launched, the whole power of the antiwar and civil rights movement in the 1960s could have transformed the labor movement and become “the source of power that reshapes economic relationships and ushers in a breakthrough to a new level of social reform.”
Such a coalition, as King envisioned it 34 years ago, is needed today. The best tribute to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X would be to begin anew to build a movement based on the ideas and the concepts that they had developed before their untimely deaths.