Martin Luther King, Jr. Assassination

mlk-measure-of-a-man-cover-196x300 Martin Luther King, Jr. AssassinationThis is a “Readers Guide to the MLK Assassination” of key books most relevant to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s murder on April 4, 1968.

The materials focus heavily on questions still remaining regarding responsibility and motive for King’s shooting in Memphis, TN.

The materials contain varied perspectives. Readers can find evidence of injustice and official cover-up. But evidence is provided also for the official explanations and defenses of the official verdict that the late James Earl Ray, an ex-convict, acted alone to kill King with a single shot from a rooming house bathroom window.

Links are included also to materials — videos, documents, websites, libraries, and other archives — that explore the assassination’s current implications for the U.S. justice system and other governance.

The first installment features a timely element as of this writing in mid-2016.

william-pepper-plot-to-kill-2016-201x300 Martin Luther King, Jr. AssassinationJune 21 marks the scheduled publication of The Plot To Kill King, the third and final volume in a series by King’s friend Dr. William F. Pepper, an attorney and educator who represented the accused killer Ray beginning in 1978.

Pepper has long argued that Ray (shown below at right in a 1955 mug shot) was the designated patsy in a plot by King opponents to use contract killers from the Mafia to kill the civil rights leader, with a back up plan for an Army sniper team to kill King under secret orders if the Mafia killer missed.

james-earl-ray-prison-1955-204x300 Martin Luther King, Jr. AssassinationThe reasons? Pepper has argued that the murder was ordered because King was expanding his advocacy against war and economic injustice in ways far more threatening to elite interests than King’s opposition to civil rights abuses via segregation and voting rights restrictions.

In a series of interviews with whistleblowers and suspects, Pepper documented his argument in part via confessions.

Pepper argued the case in two previous books, most notably An Act of State (first published in 2003) based on the successful civil suit King v. Jowers that he litigated on behalf of King’s surviving family members. A Shelby County jury deliberated less than an hour in 1999 to find that restaurant owner Lloyd Jowers was liable in the case. Jowers was one of the conspirators that Pepper describes as being persuaded to confess, at least in part.

Pepper has argued that the murder occurred with backup support from federal, state and local government operatives who perpetrated a cover-up that continues for the most part to the present.Whatever the merits of Pepper’s allegations and those like them, an enhanced and constantly updated Readers Guide should prove useful to researchers as the 50th anniversary of the MLK killing approaches in 2018.

The guide is a work in progress. Therefore, new materials and suggestions (including corrections) are welcome regarding the entries below.

Realistically, the guide cannot include every book, video, official proceeding or archive about such a major figure as King. An electronic format can make a long catalog especially difficult to read on computers and mobile devices. So, the guide seeks to focus on major works and research centers and that sample a full range of perspective. The guide begins with assassination research and  then moves to more general commentary on King’s life and legacy, and their current implications.

MLK Assassination, Major Books

Belzer, Richard, and David Wayne. Dead Wrong: Straight Facts on the Country’s Most Controversial Cover-ups. Skyhorse, 2012.

Blair, Clay, Jr. The Strange Case of James Earl Ray. Bantam, 1969.

Frank, Gerold. An American Death: The True Story of the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Greatest Manhunt in Our Time. Doubleday, 1972.

Garrow, David J. The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr.: From “Solo” to Memphis. Norton, 1981.

Huie, William Bradford. He Slew the Dreamer. Alabama Black Belt, 1997 (Thomas Nelson, 1968).

Lane, Mark, and Dick Gregory. Code Name “Zorro'” The Murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. Prentice-Hall, 1977.

__________Murder in Memphis: The FBI and the Murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. Thunder’s Mouth, 1993.

McKnight, Gerald D. The Last Crusade: Martin Luther King, Jr., the FBI, and the Poor People’s Campaign. Westview / HarperCollins, 1998.

McMillan, George. The Making of an Assassin: The Life of James Earl Ray. Little, Brown, 1976.

Melanson, Philip H. The Murkin Conspiracy: An Investigation into the Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Praeger, 1989.

__________The Martin Luther King Assassination: New Revelations on the Assassination and Cover-up. Odonian, 1994.

Pepper, William F. Orders To Kill: The Truth Behind the Murder of Martin Luther King. Carroll and Graf, 1996.

william-pepper-act-of-state Martin Luther King, Jr. Assassination__________An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King. Verso, 2003.

__________The Plot to Kill King: The Truth Behind the Assassination of Martin Luther King. Skyhorse, June 21, 2016.

Posner, Gerald. Killing the Dream: James Earl Ray and the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Random House, 1998.

Ray, James Earl. Tennessee Waltz: The Making of a Political Prisoner. St. Andrew’s, 1987.

Ray, James Earl. Who Killed Dr. Martin Luther King? The True Story by the Alleged Assassination. National Press, 1997.

Ray, Jerry, as told to Tamara Carter. A Memoir of Injustice by the Younger Brother of James Earl Ray, Alleged Assassin of Martin Luther King Jr. TrineDay. 2011. Afterword by Judge Joe Brown.

Ray, John Larry, and Lyndon Barsten. A Truth at Last, from the brother of James Earl Ray: The Untold Story Behind James Earl Ray and the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Lyons. 2008.

Scott, Peter Dale peter_dale_scott Martin Luther King, Jr. Assassination(shown in a file photo). The American Deep State: Wall Street, Big Oil and the Attack on U.S. Democracy. Rowman and Littlefield, 2014.

Smiley, Tavis, and David Ritz. Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Year. Back Bay, 2016.

Weisberg, Harold. Frame-up: The Assassination of Martin Luther King. Skyhorse, 1993 (1970). Postscript by James Earl Ray.

Weisbrot, Robert. Martin Luther King: The Assassination. Carroll & Graf, 1993.

Selected Assassination-Related Videos


CBS via YouTube, Interview with James Earl Ray: Part One. Dan Rather. (1977) (4:07 min.).


C-SPAN, Book Discussion on “An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King,” Jan. 28, 2003. William Pepper talked about his book An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King, published by Verso. The book is about his friendship with Martin Luther King, Jr., their work together in opposing the Vietnam War and on the Poor Peoples Campaign, and Dr. King’s assassination. Mr. Pepper argues that James Earl Ray, the man convicted of assassinating Dr. King, was only a “patsy” and that the men who conspired to kill Dr. King — at least one of whom is still alive — have never been brought to justice. Mr. Pepper also talks about the 1999 wrongful death lawsuit brought, and won, by the King family against Memphis restaurant owner Lloyd Jowers, on the grounds that he conspired to kill Dr. King. Pepper answered questions from members of the audience following his remarks.

Selected MLK Major Works

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. Beacon, 2010 (1958).

mlk-why-we-cant-wait-cover-194x300 Martin Luther King, Jr. Assassination__________The Measure of a Man. Literary Licensing, 2013 (1959).

__________ Strength to Love. Fortress, 2010 (Harper & Row 1963).

__________ Why We Can’t Wait. Dorothy Cotton, intro. Beacon, 2011 (New American Library, 1964).

__________ The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Vols. I-VII, Clayborne Carson, senior ed., University of California, 1992-2014.

__________ Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?  Vincent Harding, intro., and Coretta Scott King, fwd., Beacon, 2010 (Harper & Row, 1967).

__________ The Trumpet of Conscience. Coretta Scott King, fwd. Marian Wright Edelman, new fwd. Beacon, 2010 (Harper & Row, 1968). Five 1967 lectures for the Massey Series of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

__________ A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. Washington, James M., ed. HarperOne, 2003 (1986).

__________ The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Clayborne Carson, ed. Turtleback, 2001 (Warner, 1998).

__________ All Labor Has Dignity. Michael K. Honey, ed. Beacon, 2012. 2011.

__________ Thou, Dear God”: Prayers That Open Hearts and Spirits Collection of Dr. King’s Prayers. Lewis V. Baldwin, ed. Beacon, 2011.

__________ The Radical King. Cornel West, ed. Beacon, 2016.


mlk-head-shot-1 Martin Luther King, Jr. Assassination

This summary is excerpted from a similar catalog on the Justice Integrity Project, whose MLK readers guide site includes also selected book, video, documentary, and library hotlinks on King and related materials. Reader suggestions (including additions) are welcome.

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