Review of “Hellhound on His Trail” by Hampton Sides re Apprehending the Assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr.

In Hellhound on His Trail, Hampton Sides has written a history book that reads like a suspense/thriller novel. His story follows the assassination of Martin Luther King by James Earl Ray. More than four decades after the event, Sides brings to life the characters involved and the era in which it occurred. He meticulously researched many of the minutia known about both the assassin and his victim during the period immediately preceding the killing and the three months thereafter, the time it took the FBI and numerous other law enforcement agencies to locate and arrest the killer.

James Earl Ray was a loner, a loser, and an extreme racist who had spent much of his adult life in prison. He was also remarkably resourceful, streetwise, and canny. Moreover, he seemed preternaturally inconspicuous and unobtrusive. The narrative begins in spring of 1967 with Prisoner #00416-J (as he was then characterized) serving a term for armed robbery in the Missouri State Penitentiary at Jefferson City, a maximum-security facility. He accumulated some cash through trading in drugs and amphetamines, which were plentiful in the prison. He escaped by hiding scrunched up under and among some freshly baked loaves of bread that the prison bakery had sent out for delivery to the ostensibly trustworthy prisoners working outside the prison walls. He was resourceful enough to escape to Mexico without leaving a trace. He returned to the United States in November 1967, taking a large cache of marijuana, assumed the alias of Eric S. Galt, and blended into an underworld of cheap hotel and rooming houses. He was someone no one ever noticed.

Martin Luther King was internationally famous for his work in breaking down the legal barriers of Jim Crow legislation in the South through non-violent protest. King had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and had led a protest march to Washington where he delivered his “I have a dream” speech, a paean to racial justice. But by late autumn 1967, his career was decidedly on a downward trend. Black leaders impatient with the slow pace of reform, like Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, and H. Rap Brown, had captured the imagination of many disaffected black citizens, and had incited numerous urban riots. Moreover King’s well-defined goal of abolishing discriminatory legislation and government regulation had been achieved, at least theoretically. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had been enacted, negating most of Jim Crow legislation through federal preemption.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X

With the passage of these laws, King then turned his energy to ameliorating the lot of the poor of all races, and not just that of poor blacks. That decision did not sit well with all his entourage. Nevertheless, King turned toward organizing another march on Washington to be called the Poor People’s Campaign, this one with the laudable goal of eradicating poverty, but with little idea of how that could be accomplished and with no specific proposals toward achieving the goal.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking at Riverside Church, NYC, April 4, 1967

By this time, King was considered to be a thorn in the side of President Lyndon Johnson, but was hated by the Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover thought King was a communist, and was particularly concerned about King’s proposed mass gathering of poor people in a tent city in the Capitol. The FBI conducted a campaign of spying on King. Although it uncovered some of King’s sexual escapades and leaked them to the press (not to mention, to his wife Coretta), nothing seemed to come of the disclosures, which the press self-censored. It was clearly a different era in journalism.

On February 1, 1968, a horrible accident causing the grizzly death of two black men working as garbage collectors in Memphis, Tennessee set in motion a chain of events that would culminate in King’s assassination. The two men were seeking shelter from some rain when the garbage truck on which they were working malfunctioned, caught both of them in its maw, pulled them into its grinding mechanism, and literally crushed them both. Their deaths triggered the formation of a labor union by the all-black garbage-collecting work force and an illegal strike (municipal workers were not permitted to unionize or to strike) to protest low wages and dangerous working conditions.

Memphis Garbage Strike, 1968

The city government resisted the strike vigorously, if legalistically. Substitute workers were hired, but not enough to prevent the garbage from accumulating throughout the city. The strike attracted the attention of national labor and civil rights leaders, including James Lawson, a friend of MLK. Lawson persuaded King to lead a march in Memphis. The march was organized independently of King’s organization. Without King’s leadership and discipline over young hot heads, however, the march turned into a riot of looting and vandalism. King was discredited and very embarrassed. King’s second trip to Memphis was much more successful than the first, since he and his organization were able to arrange a dignified non-violent protest march.

Sides’ narrative intersperses Galt/Ray’s peregrinations with King’s preparation for the Poor People’s Campaign. Galt became obsessed with the possibility of killing King, following his travels closely through the press. Galt learned King would return to Memphis and that he would be staying at the Lorraine Motel, a black-owned enterprise. Galt rented a room in a cheap boarding house that provided him a second story view of the Lorraine’s balcony and courtyard. He purchased a high power hunting rifle, a powerful optical scope, and soft-tipped ammunition. He knew little about guns, but said he needed a deadly weapon because he would be hunting large game.

King was basking in the aura of a successful march and standing on his balcony waiting for others in his entourage to join him for dinner. Galt fire one shot, hitting King in the jaw. The soft-tipped bullet then careened through his throat and into his shoulder. King died shortly thereafter in a hospital operating room.

Hotel Lorraine, immediately after the shooting

Several anecdotes add poignancy to the aftermath of the assassination. King had spent his last night with Georgia Davis, one of his mistresses. She attempted to get into the ambulance to accompany King to the hospital, but Andrew Young avoided some bad press by touching her shoulder and saying, “Georgia, I don’t think you want to do that.” Jesse Jackson smeared his shirt with King’s blood and tried to claim he was the last person to speak to King. Others in King’s immediate circle strongly admonished him for grandstanding.

April 3, 1968: Balcony of Hotel Lorraine, left to right: Hosea Williams, Jesse Jackson, MLK, Jr. and Ralph Abernathy

King’s closest friends and successor, Ralph Abernathy, tried to carry on his legacy by completing the Poor People’s Campaign, which proved to be a disaster without King. Tens of thousands of people erected a tent city on the National Mall, but milled aimlessly for weeks, accomplishing little but incurring the ire of the national government and alienating many white former sympathizers.

The final one-fifth of the book covers Galt’s escape, his travel to Canada, England, Portugal, and back to England, where he was finally captured after the most exhaustive manhunt in history. He had sought to get to South Africa, where he thought the apartheid government might welcome him as a hero, or at least not extradite him.

The author shows how the FBI changed over night from trying to discredit King to trying to catch his killer. Much of the credit must go to Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who may have hated Hoover as much as Hoover hated King. It was only through extremely arduous and thorough police work that Galt was identified as James Earl Ray and located at London’s Heathrow Airport.

Atty. Gen. Ramsay Clark with President Lyndon Johnson

Evaluation: The book is fast paced, well-written, very detailed, and thoroughly researched. It manages to describe events without much speculation, basing its assertions on the testimony of the participants, particularly of the killer. The description of the police-FBI investigation reads like a crime thriller. Other reviewers have observed that it contains little that had not been written before, but it provides a sometimes heart-pounding refresher for people like me who have forgotten many of the details of forty years ago.

Rating: 4.5/5

Published by Doubleday, 2010

Note: Sides is also the author of, inter alia, Blood and Thunder, an exciting history of the exploration of the American West and the story of Kit Carson.

April 4, 1968 – Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Fight to Bring His Killer to Justice

In Hellhound on His Trail, Hampton Sides has written a history book that reads like a suspense/thriller novel. His story follows the assassination of Martin Luther King by James Earl Ray. More than four decades after the event, Sides brings to life the characters involved and the era in which it occurred. He meticulously researched many of the minutia known about both the assassin and his victim during the period immediately preceding the killing and the three months thereafter, the time it took the FBI and numerous other law enforcement agencies to locate and arrest the killer.

James Earl Ray was a loner, a loser, and an extreme racist who had spent much of his adult life in prison. He was also remarkably resourceful, streetwise, and canny. Moreover, he seemed preternaturally inconspicuous and unobtrusive. The narrative begins in spring of 1967 with Prisoner #00416-J (as he was then characterized) serving a term for armed robbery in the Missouri State Penitentiary at Jefferson City, a maximum-security facility. He accumulated some cash through trading in drugs and amphetamines, which were plentiful in the prison. He escaped by hiding scrunched up under and among some freshly baked loaves of bread that the prison bakery had sent out for delivery to the ostensibly trustworthy prisoners working outside the prison walls. He was resourceful enough to escape to Mexico without leaving a trace. He returned to the United States in November 1967, taking a large cache of marijuana, assumed the alias of Eric S. Galt, and blended into an underworld of cheap hotel and rooming houses. He was someone no one ever noticed.

Martin Luther King was internationally famous for his work in breaking down the legal barriers of Jim Crow legislation in the South through non-violent protest. King had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and had led a protest march to Washington where he delivered his “I have a dream” speech, a paean to racial justice. But by late autumn 1967, his career was decidedly on a downward trend. Black leaders impatient with the slow pace of reform, like Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, and H. Rap Brown, had captured the imagination of many disaffected black citizens, and had incited numerous urban riots. Moreover King’s well-defined goal of abolishing discriminatory legislation and government regulation had been achieved, at least theoretically. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had been enacted, negating most of Jim Crow legislation through federal preemption.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X

With the passage of these laws, King then turned his energy to ameliorating the lot of the poor of all races, and not just that of poor blacks. That decision did not sit well with all his entourage. Nevertheless, King turned toward organizing another march on Washington to be called the Poor People’s Campaign, this one with the laudable goal of eradicating poverty, but with little idea of how that could be accomplished and with no specific proposals toward achieving the goal.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking at Riverside Church, NYC, April 4, 1967

By this time, King was considered to be a thorn in the side of President Lyndon Johnson, but was hated by the Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover thought King was a communist, and was particularly concerned about King’s proposed mass gathering of poor people in a tent city in the Capitol. The FBI conducted a campaign of spying on King. Although it uncovered some of King’s sexual escapades and leaked them to the press (not to mention, to his wife Coretta), nothing seemed to come of the disclosures, which the press self-censored. It was clearly a different era in journalism.

On February 1, 1968, a horrible accident causing the grizzly death of two black men working as garbage collectors in Memphis, Tennessee set in motion a chain of events that would culminate in King’s assassination. The two men were seeking shelter from some rain when the garbage truck on which they were working malfunctioned, caught both of them in its maw, pulled them into its grinding mechanism, and literally crushed them both. Their deaths triggered the formation of a labor union by the all-black garbage-collecting work force and an illegal strike (municipal workers were not permitted to unionize or to strike) to protest low wages and dangerous working conditions.

Memphis Garbage Strike, 1968

The city government resisted the strike vigorously, if legalistically. Substitute workers were hired, but not enough to prevent the garbage from accumulating throughout the city. The strike attracted the attention of national labor and civil rights leaders, including James Lawson, a friend of MLK. Lawson persuaded King to lead a march in Memphis. The march was organized independently of King’s organization. Without King’s leadership and discipline over young hot heads, however, the march turned into a riot of looting and vandalism. King was discredited and very embarrassed. King’s second trip to Memphis was much more successful than the first, since he and his organization were able to arrange a dignified non-violent protest march.

Sides’ narrative intersperses Galt/Ray’s peregrinations with King’s preparation for the Poor People’s Campaign. Galt became obsessed with the possibility of killing King, following his travels closely through the press. Galt learned King would return to Memphis and that he would be staying at the Lorraine Motel, a black-owned enterprise. Galt rented a room in a cheap boarding house that provided him a second story view of the Lorraine’s balcony and courtyard. He purchased a high power hunting rifle, a powerful optical scope, and soft-tipped ammunition. He knew little about guns, but said he needed a deadly weapon because he would be hunting large game.

King was basking in the aura of a successful march and standing on his balcony waiting for others in his entourage to join him for dinner. Galt fire one shot, hitting King in the jaw. The soft-tipped bullet then careened through his throat and into his shoulder. King died shortly thereafter in a hospital operating room.

Hotel Lorraine, immediately after the shooting

Several anecdotes add poignancy to the aftermath of the assassination. King had spent his last night with Georgia Davis, one of his mistresses. She attempted to get into the ambulance to accompany King to the hospital, but Andrew Young avoided some bad press by touching her shoulder and saying, “Georgia, I don’t think you want to do that.” Jesse Jackson smeared his shirt with King’s blood and tried to claim he was the last person to speak to King. Others in King’s immediate circle strongly admonished him for grandstanding.

April 3, 1968: Balcony of Hotel Lorraine, left to right: Hosea Williams, Jesse Jackson, MLK, Jr. and Ralph Abernathy

King’s closest friends and successor, Ralph Abernathy, tried to carry on his legacy by completing the Poor People’s Campaign, which proved to be a disaster without King. Tens of thousands of people erected a tent city on the National Mall, but milled aimlessly for weeks, accomplishing little but incurring the ire of the national government and alienating many white former sympathizers.

The final one-fifth of the book covers Galt’s escape, his travel to Canada, England, Portugal, and back to England, where he was finally captured after the most exhaustive manhunt in history. He had sought to get to South Africa, where he thought the apartheid government might welcome him as a hero, or at least not extradite him.

The author shows how the FBI changed over night from trying to discredit King to trying to catch his killer. Much of the credit must go to Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who may have hated Hoover as much as Hoover hated King. It was only through extremely arduous and thorough police work that Galt was identified as James Earl Ray and located at London’s Heathrow Airport.

Atty. Gen. Ramsay Clark with President Lyndon Johnson

Evaluation: The book is fast paced, well-written, very detailed, and thoroughly researched. It manages to describe events without much speculation, basing its assertions on the testimony of the participants, particularly of the killer. The description of the police-FBI investigation reads like a crime thriller. Other reviewers have observed that it contains little that had not been written before, but it provides a sometimes heart-pounding refresher for people like me who have forgotten many of the details of forty years ago.

Rating: 4.5/5

Published by Doubleday, 2010

Note: Sides is also the author of, inter alia, Blood and Thunder, an exciting history of the exploration of the American West and the story of Kit Carson.

April 3, 1968 – The Last Speech of Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”

martin-luther-king2

With these words, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. built a crescendo to his final speech on April 3, 1968. The next day, the civil rights leader was shot and killed on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

Read the entire certified text of his last speech here.

April 4, 1968 – Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. – King’s Emphasis on Eliminating Poverty as Part of “Human Rights”

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of Dr. King – in 1993 – historian Stewart Burns contemplated King’s legacy in Tikkun Magazine. Burns, who was at the time associate editor of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers at Stanford, wrote:

During the last years of his life, King stressed the need for a human rights movement, a ‘human rights revolution,’ placing economic justice at the center. ‘It is morally right,’ he wrote in his last book, ‘to insist that every person have a decent house, an adequate education, and enough money to provide basic necessities for one’s family.’ As early as 1964 he advocated a ‘Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged’ guaranteeing education, jobs, and social services to impoverished citizens, white as well as Black and brown. He pushed the idea of a multi–billion-dollar ‘domestic Marshall Plan’ to eliminate poverty and rebuild the inner cities, compared to which the Johnson administration’s War on Poverty was a half-hearted skirmish. When he promoted preferential or ‘compensatory treatment’ for the poor and disadvantaged, he primarily meant collective solutions, such as the reconstruction of public education and massive public jobs programs. Such proposals contrasted with subsequent affirmative action programs that, along with their successes, fostered competitive individualism and class stratification among people of color and white women and did not fundamentally alter social relations of wealth and power.”

“Some critics fault King for narrowing the platform of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign to the single goal of a guaranteed livable income for all citizens, which he saw as the most rapid and effective means to abolish poverty. Yet this demand was the cutting edge of his emerging vision of universal human rights, mandated by the Declaration of Independence’s equal and inalienable right to pursue happiness. King had faith that universal values, and the rights that spring from them, were not only most likely to win support from the majority but were most likely to meet the specific needs of the poor and disadvantaged.”

“The idea of human rights goals as the common ground and shared commitment of a broad social movement uniting diverse constituencies is more compelling than ever.”

drmartinlutherkingjr

February 12, 1968: Black Sanitation Workers Strike in Memphis

How did the Black Sanitation Worker Strike begin? And why did Martin Luther, King, Jr. take up this cause? This action was the last movement Martin Luther King, Jr. would lead before his untimely and tragic assassination on April 4, 1968.

The strike began over the mistreatment of sewer and sanitation workers in Memphis. At that time, Memphis sanitation workers were mostly black. Their pay was low and they could be fired (usually by white supervisors) without warning. In 1968, the average wage of these workers was about $1.70 per hour. In addition to their sanitation work, often including unpaid overtime, many worked other jobs or had to apply for welfare and public housing to keep afloat. The working conditions were appalling.

An article from The American Prospect in January, 2007, by Peter Dreier (Distinguished Professor of Politics at Occidental College), explains:

“Forty percent of the workers qualified for welfare to supplement their poverty-level salaries. They had almost no health care benefits, pensions, or vacations. They worked in filthy conditions, and lacked basic amenities like a place to eat and shower. They were required to haul leaky garbage tubs that spilled maggots and debris on them. White supervisors called them ‘boy’ and arbitrarily sent them home without pay for minor infractions that they overlooked when white workers did the same thing. The workers asked Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb and the city council to improve their working conditions, but they refused to do so.”

On February 12 of 1968, 1,300 black sanitation workers walked off their jobs, demanding that the city recognize their union, a pay increase to $2.35 an hour, overtime pay, and merit promotions without regard to race.

king_-_i_am_a_man_irisphotocollective

For the next several months, city officials refused to negotiate with the union. In private, Mayor Loeb reportedly told associates, ‘I’ll never be known as the mayor who signed a contract with a Negro union.'”

Dreier tells us:

The city used non-union workers and supervisors to pick up garbage downtown, from hospitals, and in residential areas. Even so, thousands of tons of garbage piled up. Community support for the strikers grew steadily. The NAACP endorsed the strike and sponsored all-night vigils and pickets at City Hall. On February 23, 1,500 people — strikers and their supporters — packed City Hall chambers, but the all-white city council voted to back the mayor’s refusal to recognize the union.

On several occasions, the police attacked the strikes with clubs and mace. They harassed protestors and even arrested strike leaders for jaywalking. On March 5, 117 strikers and supporters were arrested for sitting in at city hall. Six days later, hundreds of students skipped high school to participate in a march led by black ministers. Two students were arrested.”

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Local ministers invited Martin Luther King, Jr. to come to Memphis to add support and he agreed. Dr. King inspired the protestors and drafted a plan to march in Memphis with the strikers on March 22. Then it snowed, and the march was re-scheduled for March 28.

Six thousand people gathered in downtown Memphis. The police moved into crowds with nightsticks, mace, tear gas, and gunfire. The police arrested 280 people. Sixty were injured. A 16-year-old boy, Larry Payne, was shot to death. The state legislature authorized a 7 p.m. curfew and 4,000 National Guardsmen moved in. The next day, 300 sanitation workers and supporters marched peacefully and silently to City Hall — escorted by five armored personnel carriers, five jeeps, three large military trucks, and dozens of Guardsmen with bayonets fixed.

29 Mar 1968, Memphis, Tennessee, USA --- National Guard bayonets block Beale Street as African-American protesters march through downtown Memphis wearing placards reading "I  A MAN.&quot. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

29 Mar 1968, Memphis, Tennessee, USA — National Guard bayonets block Beale Street as African-American protesters march through downtown Memphis wearing placards reading “I A MAN.” Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Dr. King came back to Memphis on Wednesday, April 3 to address a rally to pressure city officials to negotiate a compromise solution to the strike. That night, at the Mason Temple — packed with over 10,000 black workers and residents, ministers, white union members, white liberals, and students — King delivered what would turn out to be his last speech.

Every bit of that speech is worthy of quoting. Dr. King emphasized the linkage between labor movements and civil rights, and he told the crowd:

“Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you.”

He even talked about the threats against his life:

“And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”

The next afternoon, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood out on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Hotel, joking with a group of friends and fellow organizers who were down in the parking lot, when James Earl Ray, an escaped convict, shot and killed him.

Martin Luther King Jr. stands with fellow civil rights leaders on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., on April 3, 1968 — one day before he was assassinated. From left are Hosea Williams, Jesse Jackson, King and Ralph Abernathy. Charles Kelly/AP

As Peter Dreier observed:

“As Time magazine noted at the time: ‘Ironically, it was the violence of Martin Luther King’s death rather than the nonviolence of his methods that ultimately broke the city’s resistance’ and led to the strike settlement. President Johnson ordered federal troops to Memphis and instructed Undersecretary of Labor James Reynolds to mediate the conflict and settle the strike. . . . On April 16, union leaders and city officials reached an agreement. The city council passed a resolution recognizing the union. The 14-month contract included union dues check-off, a grievance procedure, and wage increases of 10 cents per hour May 1 and another five cents in September. Members of AFSCME Local 1733 approved the agreement unanimously and ended their strike.”

January 15, 1929 – Birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. – Resources Online

Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, to the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King. His legal name at birth was Michael King, and his father was also born Michael King, but the elder King changed his and his son’s names to honor the German reformer Martin Luther following a 1934 trip to Germany to attend the Fifth Baptist World Alliance Congress in Berlin.

King became an American Baptist minister and activist best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using the tactics of nonviolence and civil disobedience inspired by the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi.

The Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection has a list of links to information on Martin Luther King, Jr.

As the King Center observes:

During the less than 13 years of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s leadership of the modern American Civil Rights Movement, from December, 1955 until April 4, 1968, African Americans achieved more genuine progress toward racial equality in America than the previous 350 years had produced. Dr. King is widely regarded as America’s pre-eminent advocate of nonviolence and one of the greatest nonviolent leaders in world history.”

Some of the stand-out links include:

The Civil Rights Digital Library (CRDL) (University of Georgia)

The CRDL includes a digital video archive delivering 30 hours of historical news film allowing learners to be nearly eyewitnesses to key events of the Civil Rights Movement, a civil rights portal providing a seamless virtual library on the Movement by aggregating metadata from more than 75 libraries and allied organizations from across the nation, and instructional materials to facilitate the use of the video content in the learning process.

The King Center

Official, living memorial dedicated to the preservation and advancement of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Supports research, education, and training in nonviolent methods for justice, equality and peace. Includes biographical outline, chronology, and selected bibliography of King.

The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute (Stanford University)

Supports research and education programs to assemble and disseminate to the public historical information about King’s life and understand of the movements inspired by him. King Papers Project includes a list of publications, online encyclopedia on King related topics, bibliography, and extensive chronologies of King’s life and the Civil Rights era. An inventory of the major papers and recordings of Dr. King that allows for in depth searching and browsing by date. Some previously published items are available for view in full text format.

Take Stock

Photographs of civil rights movement, sorted into subject portfolios. Includes images of King, the March on Washington, Selma, Freedom Summer, and other subjects. [Stanford: Additional Resources Links]

Alabama, 1960

Alabama, 1960

August 28, 1963 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Delivers His “I Have A Dream” Speech

Martin Luther King, Jr. on August 28, 1963

Martin Luther King, Jr. on August 28, 1963

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Read the full text of his speech here.

Watch a video of Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering his speech here:

April 16, 1963 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Writes “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”

In the spring of 1963, in Birmingham, Alabama, the notoriously violent segregationist police commissioner “Bull” Connor and Police Chief Jamie Moore got an injunction from a state court against all demonstrations, in an attempt to quash protests for civil rights. As Time Magazine reported, “King announced that he would ignore it, led some 1,000 Negroes toward the business district. Both King and one of his top aides, the Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy, were promptly thrown into jail.”

Rev. Ralph Abernathy, left, and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., right are taken by a policeman as they led a line of demonstrators into the business section of Birmingham, Ala., on April 12, 1963.  (AP Photo)

Rev. Ralph Abernathy, left, and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., right are taken by a policeman as they led a line of demonstrators into the business section of Birmingham, Ala., on April 12, 1963. (AP Photo)

On this day in history, MLK, Jr. responded to his fellow clergymen who had made a statement calling his activism “unwise and untimely.” His explanation to them is one of the greatest documents of modern times.

In his passionate response that highlighted the difficulty of explaining racist attitudes and policies to young children, he pointed out to them:

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.”

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He added:

One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

You can read the entire letter here.

king-in-jail

February 4, 1913 – Birthdate of Rosa Parks & Links to Resources

On this day in history, Rosa McCauley, later Rosa Parks, of African-American, Scots-Irish, and Native American descent, was born in Tuskegee, Alabama.

In Alabama,“Jim Crow laws” were in effect, imposing racial segregation in public facilities and retail stores in the South, including public transportation. Blacks were relegated to the back section of public buses, but in addition, if there were a large number of white riders, bus drivers could demand more seats for whites at any time, often forcing black riders, once they had paid their fare, to get off the bus and re-enter through the back door. Those who didn’t comply risked physical violence. Parks later recalled that “The bus was among the first ways I realized there was a black world and a white world.” [This quote actually appears in the Congressional Record, Senate, Vol. 152, Pt. 11, July 20 2006, p. 15310.]

Rosa Parks, November 1956

Rosa Parks, November 1956

Most Americans think of Rosa Parks as just a poor seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama who one day made a valiant stand and decided not to move to the back of the bus (as was required for African-Americans), single-handedly taking on and helping to change the racist policies of the Jim Crow Era. (Technically, Parks did not sit in the white section at all; she sat in the front row of the “colored” section and refused to give up her seat to a white when the bus got crowded.)

Rosa Parks later became best remembered for her refusal, on December 1, 1955, at age 42, to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, which triggered the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Booking photo of Parks

Booking photo of Parks

Taylor Branch, author of a masterful three-part series on the life and times of Martin Luther King, Jr., provides the details of what happened:

Rosa Parks left the Montgomery Fair department store late in the afternoon for her regular bus ride home. All thirty-six seats of the bus she boarded were soon filled, with twenty-two Negroes seated from the rear and fourteen whites from the front. Driver J.P. Blake, seeing a white man standing in the front of the bus, called out for the four passengers on the row just behind the whites to stand up and move to the back. Nothing happened. Blake finally had to get out of the driver’s seat to speak more firmly to the four Negroes. ‘You better make it light on yourselves and let me have those seats,’ he said. At this, three of the Negroes moved to stand in the back of the bus, but Parks responded that she was not in the white section and didn’t think she ought to move. She was in no-man’s-land. Blake said that the white section was where he said it was, and he was telling Parks that she was in it. As he saw the law, the whole idea of no-man’s-land was to give the driver some discretion to keep the races out of each other’s way. He was doing just that. When Parks refused again, he advised her that the same city law that allowed him to regulate no-man’s-land also gave him emergency police power to enforce the segregation codes. He would arrest Parks himself if he had to. Parks replied that he should do what he had to do; she was not moving. She spoke so softly that Blake would not have been able to hear her above the drone of normal bus noise. But the bus was silent. Blake notified Parks that she was officially under arrest. She should not move until he returned with the regular Montgomery police.”

Prior to Parks’ action on December 1, 1955, three other Montgomery blacks had been arrested for not giving up their bus seats, but Parks was deemed by the black leadership to have sufficient inner strength and respect of the community to serve as a rallying point for a boycott. In addition, the leadership thought she – humble yet dignified, would make a good impression on white judges. Planning for a boycott had been taking place since 1949. It required a significant investment of time and resources by the Civil Rights Movement. Word had to get out to the black community, leaflets printed and distributed, ministers asked to spread the word, negotiating demands drawn up, and most importantly, alternative transportation had to be put into place for all the blacks who relied on the bus to get to their jobs, doctor’s appointments, shopping, etc. Volunteer cars were needed, and volunteer drivers, for those who could not walk.

In one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s greatest speeches, he spoke to an audience at the Holt Street Baptist Church about the boycott they began when Mrs. Rosa Parks was taken off the public bus in Montgomery, carried to jail, and arrested for refusing to move to the back:

We are here in a general sense because first and foremost we are American citizens, and we are determined to apply our citizenship to the fullness of its meaning. We are here also because of our love for democracy, because of our deep-seated belief that democracy transformed from thin paper to thick action is the greatest form of government on earth.

…And we are not wrong; we are not wrong in what we are doing. If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong. If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to Earth. If we are wrong, justice is a lie…”

Many believe this was his most important speech.

Rosa Parks in 1955, with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the background

Rosa Parks in 1955, with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the background

A good resource for more information on Rosa Parks is the Library of Congress Primary Source Gallery, here. The Library of Congress also, as of February, 2016, made available the papers of Rosa Parks here. As the site explains:

This collection contains thousands of unique artifacts that shed light on this courageous fighter for social justice. The letters, diaries, notes, photographs, and other documents in this collection, which is on loan to the Library for ten years from the Howard G. Buffet Foundation, provide invaluable insights into her life and thoughts.”

You can watch a video of Parks describing her role in the bus boycott here. PBS has more resources on her here. At The National Archives website you can view the police report of the bus incident, and well as her fingerprint records.

Rosa Parks in 1956

Rosa Parks in 1956

January 30, 1956 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Home Bombed

On Thursday, December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white person on the bus she took on her regular ride home from a Montgomery department store. The bus driver called the Montgomery police, who took her to the station and booked, fingerprinted, and incarcerated her. She was charged with violating the Alabama bus segregation laws. Bond was posted for Mrs. Parks, and she went home. By Monday, a bus boycott was organized. The NAACP, Women’s Political Council, Baptist Ministers Conference, and the city’s African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zionist ministers united with the community to help.

Rosa Parks in 1956

Rosa Parks in 1956

After the successful beginning of the boycott on Monday, the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) came into being that afternoon, and Martin Luther King, Jr. accepted the presidency. As MIA leader, King became the focus of white hatred. On January 30, 1956, the King home was bombed.

King had been speaking at a mass meeting at the First Baptist Church. When he heard the news, he told the crowd what happened, and left the church.

Nearing his house, King saw blacks brandishing guns and knives, and a barricade of white policemen. King went inside and pushed through the crowd in his house to the back room to make sure Coretta and his ten-week-old baby were okay. Back in the front room of the house, some white reporters were trying to leave to file their stories, but could not get out of the house, which was surrounded by armed, angry blacks.

KIng's house after the bombing

KIng’s house after the bombing

Taylor Branch, in Parting the Waters, tells what happened next:

King walked out onto the front porch. Holding up his hand for silence, he tried to still the anger by speaking with an exaggerated peacefulness in his voice. Everything was all right, he said. ‘Don’t get panicky. Don’t do anything panicky. Don’t get your weapons. If you have weapons, take them home. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword. Remember that is what Jesus said. We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love.’”

When the crowd of several hundred was silent, he continued:

I did not start this boycott. I was asked by you to serve as your spokesman. I want it to be known the length and breadth of this land that if I am stopped, this movement will not stop. If I am stopped, our work will not stop. For what we are doing is right. What we are doing is just. And God is with us.”

The bombing inspired the MIA to file a federal suit directly attacking the laws establishing bus segregation. In the meanwhile, for thirteen months the 17,000 black people in Montgomery walked to work or obtained lifts from the small car-owning black population of the city. Eventually, the loss of revenue and a decision by the Supreme Court forced the Montgomery Bus Company to accept integration, and the boycott came to an end on December 20, 1956. 
 The success of the boycott became apparent when King and several allies boarded a public bus in front of King’s home on December 21, 1956.

MLK Riding the Integrated Bus in 1956

MLK Riding the Integrated Bus in 1956