Traces of Lyndon Johnson’s Personal Involvement in MLK’s Assassination – PART 2

(A Primer: Condensed, and recompiled from Who REALLY Killed MLK?)

The Culmination of Months of Planning: Dr. King Takes the Bait (Act I)

After having to cancel his snowed-out Memphis visit in support of the sanitation workers that had been scheduled for March 22nd, Dr. King spent a week in New York recruiting volunteers for his Washington Poor People’s Campaign scheduled for the following month.  King then returned to Atlanta March 27th and flew on to Memphis Thursday morning, March 28, accompanied only by his traveling aide Bernard Lee. In anticipation of his arrival, thousands of people had gathered around Clayborn Temple, where pandemonium reigned by the time Dr. King arrived at nearly 11:00 a.m.

Ralph Abernathy was there to greet them as they arrived, though due to the crowds surrounding his car, it took almost ten minutes to extricate King and get him placed at the head of the march line, locking arms with Abernathy and H. Ralph Jackson in the process.[1]

Among the crowds were many young black high school students who had cut classes for the day, encouraged by older youths, most of whom the leaders, including Reverend James M. Lawson, the chief marshal of the parade, had never seen before in any of the planning meetings. Some of them, it was later determined, had come from as far away as St. Louis and Chicago.[2] Among them were members of a black activist group of a more militant mindset, most of them wearing jackets printed with INVADERS on the back. Those blue denim jackets, with sewn letters, were easy to make, so many were turning up on men and boys not actually associated with the organization. Lawson did recognize some of the young men from the planning meetings and he realized that certain of their tactics were not compatible with the “nonviolent” theme Dr. King had always maintained, but at this point, there was little that could be done about that.

The march finally started, but when they had advanced only a few blocks, to Second and Main Streets, they began to hear the sound of breaking glass behind them. Dr. King recognized the sounds of trouble and exclaimed, “We can’t have that!” He called for Lawson to stop the march, and it was quickly agreed that King must leave immediately. His aide and bodyguard Bernard Lee saw a black lady driving her car across Main Street and stopped her, explaining that Dr. King needed to borrow her car. Lee took the wheel and King and Abernathy got into the backseat, and a police escort took them to the Rivermont Holiday Inn, where they took a room on the eighth floor. By the end of the day, a teenage black boy was dead (twenty witnesses claimed he died after being shot while his hands were raised in submission), sixty other blacks had been roughed up, and nearly three hundred more were arrested. According to Pulitzer Prize winner Taylor Branch, sixty demonstrators, mostly young males—but including females ranging in age from twelve to seventy-five—would be hospitalized for emergency care.

Governor Ellington ordered four thousand National Guardsmen to the scene, and Mayor Loeb declared the entire city in a state of emergency and ordered a curfew of 7:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.[3]   The police call logs from that incident state that at 11:32, “Mr. Holloman talked to Mayor Henry Loeb. ‘You call the Governor [sic] and I’ll call in the Guard,’ he said.” Under the direction of Frank Holloman, the massive use of weapons, clubs, tear gas, and mace by the police was obviously a carefully planned response to what had been purported to be a “spontaneous” eruption, cunningly provoked through numerous infiltrators, informants and street thugs from other, larger cities.

“The Violence in Memphis was a Godsend to the FBI” [4]

Had British historian Adam Fairclough, who wrote the above sentence, known the real history behind the outbreak of violence in Memphis one week before the assassination of Dr. King, he would have realized that there was nothing about that event that was related to Devine intervention for the benefit of the FBI.

It is a generally accepted fact among researchers who have studied this piece of civil rights history – though not acknowledged by “officialdom” of course – that the Memphis violence was planned in advance by the FBI, as evidenced by the logistics completed in advance for putting it in place.  The March 28th riot was actually the second operation designed to compel Dr. King’s appearances in Memphis – the first being the “accidental” deaths of two sanitation workers in early February – all on the FBI’s timeline. Among the numerous additional factors proving the point are:

  • The fact that both the FBI and the MPD had numerous informants who helped stage the event, down to setting the time that Dr. King made his appearance on the balcony, wearing a tie – to help the men with rifles in their identification of the target (the men who he thought were there to help him, but were acting to facilitate the assassination, were not wearing ties); Only Dr. King, Reverends Abernathy and Young wore ties that evening.
  • Among the men previously identified by researchers and authors as being FBI or MPD informants assisting the planners were Rev. Billy Kyles of Memphis, King’s young associate Jesse Jackson, King’s chauffeur Solomon Jones and Marrell McCollough, a black police officer who had infiltrated the Invaders; masquerading as a body-guard, he would stay at Dr. King’s side throughout his visit. The other notable “superinformant,” photographer Ernest Withers (a supposed friend of King) was purposely kept away from the scene of the crime.
  • The importation of Black youths from Chicago and St. Louis, many wearing jackets with the local “Invaders” name sewn onto their blue denim jackets, was not known to the protest march organizers until the march began; the fact that they were associated with Jesse Jackson’s Operation Breadbasket, members of a gang known as the Blackstone Rangers, was only revealed in the later investigations of the crime.  These youths were brought to Memphis for the purpose of creating an atmosphere of destructive violence.
  • The main objective of the FBI’s plot to create violence was to discredit Dr. King’s long-standing reputation of non-violence in all protest events, forcing him to have to return soon thereafter to redeem himself.  The following day, March 29th, as pre-planned by the FBI, two tasks were completed to ensure that Dr. King would return the following week as a means to salvage his reputation for non-violent protests:

#1: Senator / KKK Exalted Cyclops[5] Robert Byrd (proudly pictured in his finest sartorial splendor) delivered a 2,500 word speech (pre-written by FBI scribes) on the Senate floor appealing to all Americans to pressure the government to prevent King from bringing his “Poor Peoples’ Campaign” to Washington the following month; and

#2 Newspapers throughout the nation – fed pre-prepared copy the previous afternoon –published front-page news stories and editorial page exhortations demanding that King be prohibited from proceeding with his promise to bring his followers to Washington, where, at this point, a “siege mentality” had set in, throughout all government departments.

A Sampling of Newspaper Headlines from Around the Nation

It was later revealed that the undercover policeman, Marrell McCollough (who subsequently joined the CIA) was responsible for infiltrating the Invaders and provoking them to create the violence; he would later escort Dr. King around, masquerading as his bodyguard when he returned to Memphis.

Dr. King Takes the Bait (Act II)

The FBI-planned violence was done for the primary purpose of discrediting Dr. King, by making a shambles of his commitment to nonviolent, legally sanctioned protest. But the larger objective went beyond simply discrediting him in the eyes of a public that had become increasingly attracted to the movement he had led. More importantly, it was to set him up for a return visit to Memphis to vindicate his ability to control his followers. 

That would allow the plotters to fully control events, including the most essential objective: Ensuring that he would stay – not at one of the more luxurious hotels he favored – but at the Lorraine Motel, the one giving the best chance of making sure he was visible to multiple shooters at the appointed hour. One shooter was given the primary assignment, the others were there to assist only if necessary.

From the time Dr. King arrived in Memphis on April 3rd to the time he was shot at 6:01 p.m. on April 4th, Marrell McCollough would be at his side or close nearby, reporting all movements back to his superiors in the headquarters of the Memphis Police Department.

As directed by one of the informants — probably Billy Kyles or Jesse Jackson, possibly Marrell McCollough (shown kneeling over Dr. King) — when asked by photographer Louw where the shots came from, everyone pointed to the back of the rooming house, though no one actually saw from where the shot was fired (but 3 other people noticed a man running from the bushes below).

At the moment the shot rang out on April 4th (at 6:01 p.m.), Jesse Jackson was below Dr. King’s balcony, explaining why he refused to wear a tie that evening; previously, he reportedly performed the task of ensuring King’s room was changed before his arrival, from an interior room to #306, the one visible from several sniper lairs.[6]

Another informer – though not on-site that day, undoubtedly as planned by the FBI, unaware of the real plan for his own protection – was the famed black photographer and reporter Ernest C. Withers, who was considered by the FBI as a “superinformant” because he could get into any meetings of King’s associates as well as other civil rights activists with his camera and report his findings directly back to the FBI. He regularly reported to the FBI details about King’s schedule, the people he met with, what they talked about, the license plate numbers and cars for his entourage, even the hotel room numbers where he was to stay, in advance of his arrival.[7] 

The FBI arranged for Joseph Louw, a stringer for the New York Times, to be conveniently placed in room 309 of the Lorraine Motel, three doors away from King’s room, so he was immediately on the scene in order to take the famous photo of King’s aides pointing to the rooming house, falsely establishing it as the source of the rifle shot.  

The plotters knew that Dr. King would have to quickly make amends if he wanted to proceed with his campaign in Washington the following month with proof that he could conduct a major, nonviolent demonstration. They used what they knew he would have to do as the ultimate “hook” to bring him back to the city on their schedule, one designed to have all of the logistics in place: men, money, equipment, artillery, and, most critically important to the mission, a designated patsy.

 The Aftermath:  Railroading James Earl Ray

James Earl Ray was selected as the “patsy” two years before the assassination of Dr. King. His entire criminal career had always been that of petty crimes, laundering stolen postal money orders and an occasional bank robberty. In late 1966, Clyde Tolson took $25,000 in cash to Memphis and arranged for it to be sent to the warden of the Jefferson City prison as a bribe to facilitate the “escape” of Ray and to ensure that he would not be aggressively pursued.  In fact, prison officials would later state that they were not convinced he had even gone over the walls initially, so for several days they did not report his escape nor actively pursue him as an escapee. When they finally put out a circular, the fingerprints used were not even Ray’s, but some other prisoner’s, evidently as part of a plot to avoid capturing him, not the inadvertent “error” that they would claim it to be.[8]

At that point, Ray had already left the area, going first to Chicago, then beginning an odyssey that would first take him to Montreal Canada where he began a nine-month international journey under the watchful eye of a mysterious man named “Raoul,” who insinuated himself into a role of Ray’s primary “handler”.  His mysteries began with whether he was connected to the FBI or the CIA or both; since every investigation seemed to avoid the mere mention of his name it was no surprise that it was avoided where possible. That James Earl Ray kept repeating it to the police, the FBI and Department of Justice investigators from the day of his capture until the day he died, it would never be taken seriously, of course, since the FBI – even the compromised investigators for the House Select Committee on Assassination (HSCA) – had a vested interest in keeping it off the table.

How Slick Lawyering by Percy Foreman “Convicted” James Earl Ray

Percy Foreman, LBJ’s long-term friend

Lyndon Johnson’s long-time friendship with Percy Foreman was a major key to the eventual unwinding of the truth of Martin Luther King’s assassination.  When Ray learned how his first lawyer (Arthur Hanes) had become compromised due to his association with author William Bradford Huie, who had been working in concert with the FBI to frame him (Ray) he decided to fire both of them so he could start over.

Huie’s crucially-important role in framing Ray is merely noted here for the sake of brevity (It is examined at length within the book). As it happened  — undoubtedly due to the microphones and the CCTV cameras focused on Ray’s brightly-lit (24/7) prison cell – Percy Foreman had already been “waiting in the wings,” ready and willing to convince him to dump Hanes (in contradiction to laws and regulations concerning an attorney’s rights to solicit someone already having an attorney).

UPDATE: Six weeks after my book was published, John Curington published his memoirs, H. L. Hunt, Motive and Opportunity, about his career working as H. L. Hunt’s “right-hand man.” Within that book, he explains how Percy Foreman wound up in the Shelby County Jail at the precise moment that Ray decided to fire Arthur Hanes. He stated that H. L. Hunt gave him a briefcase loaded with $125,000 in cash ($904,838 in today’s value) and told him to visit Foreman at his office and how to make the presentation: “[I] laid it on the desk in front of him. ‘I have one hundred and twenty-five thousand reasons why James Earl Ray should plead guilty to killing Martin Luther King,’ I said. Foreman looked at me and said, ‘Well, just leave them with me, and I’ll take a look at them.’ I walked out of the room, not having been there more than a minute or two. I left the $125,000 . . . and sure enough, James Earl Ray entered a guilty plea.” (Kindle Part IV, Loc. 1864).

Curington then lamented on what Hunt’s possible motive might have been: “Why was it so important for Mr. Hunt to have a confession from Ray? . . . That phone conversation that I was privy to between Mr. Hunt and Percy Foreman was very short and to the point, and the promise of money was just a veiled, casual thing. My own conversation with Foreman wasn’t much more. Surely some prior groundwork had been done, and I have to wonder if it hadn’t been done between J. Edgar Hoover, Mr. Hunt, and Percy Foreman. Unfortunately, the answers to all those things and many other questions died with Mr. Hunt.” (Kindle, Part IV, Loc. 1881)

All of this explains why Foreman was so intent on forcing Ray to plead guilty from the moment he became Ray’s lawyer, always reminding him about Judge Battle’s standing injunction against Ray ever making another attorney change. Curington pointedly noted that Hunt had “no dog in that hunt”. The absence of a plausible motive on his part can only be explained by the obvious presence of a very clear and specific motive on the parts of Johnson and Hoover.

With the change of lawyers, author Huie’s relationship with Ray went from one of an openly overt status to a secret and covert basis: Huie was suddenly operating in the shadows, secretly receiving confidential information behind Ray’s back. The worst part of Ray’s dilemma was how he had been put into the position of being the source of funding his own demise, with Huie’s payments to Ray diverted to his attorneys.

After enduring eight months of torturous imprisonment in a windowless cell constantly monitored by guards trained to deny him privacy in any form, badgered by Percy Foreman to accept a “plea deal” to avoid the death penalty — with promises that it would subsequently be overturned, but with the death penalty off the table — Ray capitulated to the pressure. Then, immediately afterward, he fired Foreman and appealed to the judge to retract the plea deal; Judge Preston Battle, having given indications that he would do exactly that, suddenly died of a heart attack as he was about to issue his decision. [9]

Despite the fact that existing Tennessee law automatically mandated the approval of such an appeal, the new judge who was assigned to the case disapproved it, ensuring that Ray would stay in prison while the appeal would be sent to the state Supreme Court. Governor Ellington ensured it would go no further than that with his “special appointment” of Erby L. Jenkins to handle Ray’s appeal, in lieu of the sitting justices of the court hearing the case.

The supposedly august, but pompous and arrogant “Special Justice” Erby L. Jenkins, would declare that “There is no claim that the State or the court below coerced” (conveniently omitting the actions of his own attorney) James Earl Ray into making the decision to plead guilty.” (The well-coordinated actions to deny Ray a fair trial, of a number of federal judges – and the untimely deaths of two state judges who were showing signs of too much independence – are detailed within the book but merely noted briefly here). [10]

Proof of Foreman’s double-cross on his client came only a few months later, when he virtually admitted on the Dick Cavett television show that he had indeed coerced Ray into taking the guilty plea. The “Texas Tiger” sold Ray under the pretext that it was his only way to avoid the electric chair, while falsely promising that the sentence would be quickly modified to allow him an early release, despite the fact that it was an admission of his guilt.  

Foreman even reiterated in the Look article of April 15, 1969 that, had Ray not taken the guilty plea, it would have been his “duty” to take the stand against his own client, in violation of the sacred attorney-client relationship, to testify against Ray.

The federally sponsored—and state-sanctioned—cruelly inhumane treatment given to James Earl Ray (for the sake of brevity, not described here but detailed within the book), was nearly unmatched by any other case in American history, with the notable exceptions of Sirhan B. Sirhan and Lee Harvey Oswald. All three of these cases were comparable to what one might expect to find in German history, circa 1936–1945, or in the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union.

Gov. Ellington’s ultimate power over the state judiciary, through his appointments to judgeships at the district, appeals, and state supreme courts – especially Special Justice Erby Jenkins – was critical to the plan to deny James Earl Ray any chance of a fair trial. The source of Governor Ellington’s power over all facets of the prosecution and adjudication of James Earl Ray was not merely the obvious authority of the office he held: That was merely a base, extended and augmented by his direct ties to Lyndon Johnson and thus through Hoover’s FBI into a highly coordinated juggernaut that controlled all elements of the campaign to “convict” Ray, not only in a corrupted judicial system but, more importantly, in the court of public opinion.

The collective power that had been arrayed against the hapless James Earl Ray has been proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, by how Ray spent the last thirty years his life in prison cells. For three decades, he had been denied his constitutional rights to prove his innocence before a fair judge and an impartial jury with the assistance of a competent, honest, diligent, and uncompromised attorney.  Throughout his imprisonment, “none of the above” would be accessible to Mr. Ray, until the last few years when the time-clock had already run out and even the estimable William F. Pepper, Esq. could not free him.


End Notes:

[1] Branch, Taylor, At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years 1965–68, pp. 730–731

[2] Lane and Gregory, Murder in Memphis, p. 98. (Also Pepper, p. 623 – Appendix I, p. 85.)

[3] Op. Cit. (Branch), p. 733

[4] Fairclough, Adam, To Redeem the Soul of America: The Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Martin Luther King Jr., p. 375)

[5] Palmer, Brian, “What Does an Exalted Cyclops Do? He reports to the Dragon and coordinates the Centaurs”, June 30, 2010

[6] Pepper, William F. The Plot to Kill King: The Truth Behind the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2016 pp. 240-241

[7] Emison, p. 126 (Also see The New Yorker magazine, Sept. 15, 2010, which included, inter-alia, this excerpt: “Throughout the fifties and sixties, Withers snapped many key moments in the South. A veteran freelancer for America’s black press, Withers was known as ‘the original civil rights photographer,’ an insider who’d covered it all, from the Emmett Till murder that jump-started the movement in 1955 to the Little Rock school crisis, the integration of Ole Miss and, now, the 1968 sanitation strike that brought King to Memphis and his death,’ summarizes the Appeal”).

[8] Nelson, Phillip F., Who Really Killed Martin Luther King Jr.? New York, Skyhorse Publishing Co., pp. 65; 81; 101-102 (Ref. Pepper, pp. 41, 240-241, 274; HSCA MLK Report, Vol VIII, p. 62

[9] Ibid, pp. 244-245 (Ref. Ray, James Earl, Who Killed Martin Luther King?, pp. 115-116, 271; Lane, Mark Murder in Memphis, p. 189)

[10] Ibid.

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