By Joel D. Joseph
Thirty years ago I was publisher at National Press Books in Washington, D.C. specializing in creating controversial books. I visited James Earl Ray, the alleged assassin of Martin Luther King, at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, Tennessee. Ray had written a draft of his side of the story, claiming that he was innocent of the murder of Rev. King.
I did not want to publish the book if I believed that Ray was King's assassin. I handled many civil-rights cases and was friendly with many civil-rights activists. I put together 400 questions for my session with Ray, who was shackled while we spoke for four hours. These questions were based on everything that I could get my hands on. I read a dozen books about the assassination. I interviewed witnesses, including an FBI agent who stated that the FBI was involved in the conspiracy to kill Dr. King. I discussed James Earl Ray with Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was on the scene in Memphis, Tennessee, when King was killed. I convinced Rev. Jackson to write the foreword. Jackson still believes Ray is innocent. National Press Books published "Who Killed Martin Luther King?" in hardcover in 1992.
The Washington Post reported, "In the five decades since Martin Luther King Jr. was shot dead by an assassin at age 39, his children have worked tirelessly to preserve his legacy, sometimes with sharply different views on how best to do that. But they are unanimous on one key point: James Earl Ray did not kill Martin Luther King." Washington Post, March 30, 2018.
"It pains my heart," said Bernice King, 58, the youngest of Martin Luther King's four children and the executive director of the King Center in Atlanta, "that James Earl Ray had to spend his life in prison paying for things he didn't do."
Until her own death in 2006, Coretta Scott King, who endured the FBI's campaign to discredit her husband, was open in her belief that a conspiracy led to the assassination. Her family filed a civil suit in 1999 (the year after James Earl Ray died) to force more information into the public eye, and a Memphis jury ruled that the local, state and federal governments were liable for King's death.
"There is abundant evidence," Coretta Scott King said after the verdict, "of a major, high-level conspiracy in the assassination of my husband." The jury found the mafia and various government agencies "were deeply involved in the assassination... Mr. Ray was set up to take the blame."
"I think there was a major conspiracy to remove Doctor King from the American scene," said civil-rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). "I don't know what happened, but the truth of what happened to Dr. King should be made available for history's sake."
Andrew Young, the former U.N. ambassador and Atlanta mayor who was at the Lorraine Motel with King when he was shot there, agrees. "I would not accept the fact that James Earl Ray pulled the trigger, and that's all that matters," said Young
When one of my sons was in elementary school his teacher said that James Earl Ray. My son, then about ten years old, stood up and said, "No he didn't. My father published a book by James Earl Ray saying that he didn't kill Dr. King." At a parent-teacher conference I had to stand up for my son.
Politicians, judges, teachers, parents and students should all be concerned about the truth that we are told in school. On Martin Luther King Day we should all think about Dr. King's assassination. If he was killed as part of a plot involving J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI we should discuss how such an injustice could occur.
If the King family, and most leading civil-rights leaders in this country, do not believe that James Earl Ray was King's assassin, we have an obligation to keep the investigation open and find out the truth.. As Dr. King often quoted from the bible, let us all think about one of his favorites: "And the truth shall set you free." John 8:32.
To explore the truth I am publishing Who Killed Martin Luther King?, James Earl Ray's side of the story. It is now published in paperback and as an ebook and available at bookstores worldwide.