Co-authored by Lamar Waldron
Sunday, April 4, 2010 marked the forty-second anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. The recent spate of violence and threats directed at members of Congress evoke all too well the tumult of the 1960s. Seeing a hero of the Civil Rights movement like Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) facing an angry gantlet of protestors -- some using the N-word -- as he left the Capitol brought back memories of similar scenes from the 1960s, when Rep. Lewis worked with Martin Luther King.
The resurgence in violent acts and rhetoric was building even before the surge that accompanied passage of health care reform. This not only includes white supremacist shootings of several police officers over the past year, but arrests in ten different states for serious plots to assassinate Obama, most by white supremacists.
Some of the large corporations and mainstream politicians stoking the anger at President Obama may not realize how quickly such an atmosphere of hate can get beyond their control. For them, it's just a matter of money and power, by making sure populist anger that should be directed at them is instead diverted to President Obama and others.
It's been said that those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it. But thanks to Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), Representative John Lewis, and others, Americans have a rare chance to finally bring the hidden history of Martin Luther King's assassination to light.
The Boston Globe reported that Sen. Kerry is getting ready to introduce a Martin Luther King Records Act, which would finally preserve and declassify all the records about Dr. King's assassination. The Globe said that Rep. John Lewis would introduce the new King Records Act in the House.
While many FBI files about Dr. King's murder have been released to the public -- often pried out of the Bureau by Freedom of Information lawsuits -- many of the most important files remain unreleased. That's why several weeks ago, Sen. Kerry wrote a letter to the head of the National Archives, saying he wants to release to the public "all records related to the...death of Dr. King, including any investigations or inquiries into his assassination by federal, state, or local agencies."
Unsolved Civil Rights crimes have been in the spotlight in recent years, with cases reopened due to the dogged efforts of reporters like Mississippi's Jerry Mitchell, who helped to put the assassin of Medgar Evers behind bars. But many people don't realize that Dr. King's assassination is another of those unsolved civil rights crimes.
In 1979, a Congressional investigation headed by Rep. Louis Stokes "concluded that there was a likelihood of conspiracy in the assassination of Dr. King" and that "the expectation of financial gain was [James Earl] Ray's primary motivation." Yet the Congressional committee wasn't able to figure out who was putting up the money that motivated Ray, in part because of material withheld from the committee by the FBI and other agencies. Some of those files withheld from Congress are available now online, through private organizations like the Mary Ferrell Foundation (maryferrell.org), though others have never been released.
One example is the case of Joseph Milteer, a white supremacist from the tiny south Georgia town of Quitman, who was affiliated with an unusually wide range of racists and racist groups, ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to the more respectable White Citizens Councils. Milteer also worked with violent white supremacist J. B. Stoner, who eventually became James Earl Ray's lawyer.
Rep. Stokes's committee investigated not only Dr. King's murder, but also that of President Kennedy, and they were given information tying Milteer to the assassination of JFK. That's because Milteer was recorded on Miami Police informant tape on November 9, 1963 -- thirteen days before JFK was killed -- describing "a plan to assassinate the President with a high-powered rifle from a tall building" and saying that authorities 'will pick up somebody within hours afterwards." Milteer also talked on that tape about an associate's unsuccessful plot to assassinate King.
The FBI didn't give Rep. Stokes's committee any information about any investigation they did in 1968 about Milteer and Dr. King's assassination. Even though the FBI was concerned about Milteer as late as 1967, there is no indication in released FBI files that the Bureau made even a routine inquiry as to where Milteer was when Dr. King was shot, something the FBI did for racists far less notorious than Milteer. It's a shame the FBI (apparently) didn't try to find out, because after Milteer's death, a Miami reporter found in his burned out house a letter indicating that Milteer was in Atlanta in the unusual area where James Earl Ray was abandoning his getaway car on the day after Dr. King was killed.
Milteer's presence in that area of Atlanta that day -- over 200 miles from Milteer's Quitman home -- helps to explain several things that have puzzled investigators for decades. After Dr. King was shot in Memphis, James Earl Ray fled to Canada. But first, while Ray was the most wanted man in America, he took an unusual 450-mile detour south, to Atlanta, where Ray had been living in a small rooming house. Then, when Ray arrived in Atlanta, he parked almost in the shadow from Georgia's heavily-guarded State Capitol building.
More bizarre, Ray left his much sought-after getaway car just nine short blocks from Dr. King's office and church, but over three miles from Ray's Atlanta rooming house, where he was headed. Despite intense efforts, the FBI and Atlanta police were never able to find any cab or bus driver who took Ray to his rooming house.
New information that we detail in our recently updated book Legacy of Secrecy shows that Ray had called one of Milteer's three Atlanta business partners shortly before abandoning his car. We also show how Milteer and his racist partners had put up most or all of the money for the hit contract on Dr. King, and likely aided Ray's improbable two month escape, in which Ray went from Atlanta to Canada, to England, then to Portugal, and finally back to England (where Ray was arrested).
As we noted earlier, Rep. Stokes's Congressional committee was given information about Milteer and JFK's 1963 assassination, but nothing about Milteer and Dr. King's 1968 murder. In March 2010, author Stuart Wexler was told in writing that the FBI and National Archives can't locate the FBI's Atlanta Field Office File for Milteer. Even worse, the FBI wrote Wexler that they had routinely destroyed the Atlanta Field Office file for another racist who traveled in the same circles as Milteer -- even though other FBI files show this racist had boasted of knowing James Earl Ray, provided information to an FBI informant about King's assassination, and was himself investigated for a 1963 plot against King.