Chasing King’s Killer – The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassin – My Review


If this book were a novel it would easily earn 5 stars.

Unfortunately, because it deals with history and is one person’s account, I will be generous and rate it 3 stars, simply because there are a couple of critical omissions, so unless the reader is fully informed on the life of Dr. King and the events which led to his assassination, they are left to the narration of others.

The book is masterfully designed and in hardback looks great.  It is designed as part of the Scholastic series or targeted for high school students or young adults.  However, regardless of age, the content is so intriguing it is a great find for your library.

It weaves you through the journey of Dr. King’s life including one of the initial assassination attempts during his inaugural book signing which took place in New York.  Also, there are some great photographs in the book.  It continues and traces Dr. King’s work which eventually took him to Memphis.  Then, it changes course and brings James Earl Ray into focus.  Swanson does a good job in narrating the life and struggles of Ray.  It concludes with his decision to finally pull the trigger firing the deadly blow which allegedly fell Dr. King.

The book covers 373 pages and has a touching forward by civil rights icon, Congressman John Lewis.  Upon reflection I doubt if Congressman Lewis read the entire book?  The contradictions made in Swanson’s representation are basic well-known facts, so either Lewis let it slide, didn’t think it was significant enough to challenge or simply lent his name to the book but didn’t read it?

Dr. King’s life and work is well documented.  Some facts or issues are disputed but I am one who has studied Dr. King for some time and while mistakes or errors do occur from time to time, from my perspective Swanson writes from a viewpoint he feels worthy of directing.  Also, in fairness to Swanson I received a copy for review so perhaps corrections have already been made?  My critique is not to be a knit-picker but facts are facts and any omission raises red flags and as previously mentioned are very important when historic events or figures are the topic.

Two Contradictions

Here are two contradictions on why I reduced my rating from 5 stars to 3 stars.   Fortunately, in addition to studying Dr King’s work, I have been to Memphis.  Been to the Lorraine Hotel, the area where the shot was allegedly fired from.  Additionally, I have been inside the Mason Temple arena where Dr. King gave his last speech, the famous “Mountaintop Speech.”  As Swanson describes the day of April 3, 1968 on page 128 he specifically mentions on the third paragraph Dr. King had spoken for an hour and a half.  That translates into ninety minutes?  Fortunately, many of Dr. King’s speeches and remarks were recorded.  I have listened to the “Mountaintop Speech” well over 50 times and the facts are simple; Dr. King did not speak for ninety minutes but more like 30 minutes from the time Rev. Abernathy introduced him until his last words where he was helped to his seat when finished.

The other issue is accepting the notion that James Earl Ray was the only killer?  Coincidently, in 2008 I met Judge Joe Brown at the Lorraine Motel and he spent over three hours explaining the case federal case  where he was the presiding judge.  The trial is well documented and was brought by the King family to determine if James Earl Ray was the only killer?  Judge Brown is known for his controversy but whether you believe them or not, or whether you believe Swanson’s narrative or not was not the sole criteria for my review.  However, Swanson appears to marginalize the King family’s attempt to get “their” truth as on page 251 he writes, “his lies (Ray) deceived Dr. King’s family and one of King’s sons visited Ray in prison, told him he believed him, and shook his hand.”  The problem for me what Swanson’s represents is the tone of denial or questioning the reality of the King family, at least as how they saw it!   In other words who is it for them to question the narrative which most of the public has accepted?

 

Judge Brown told me directly that based on the trial, James Earl Ray was not the killer.   As shocking as that might sound, it is a critical fact or point of view worth exploring.  The bigger point and the reason I challenge Swanson is the King family accepted the jury decision of the trial, which concluded James Earl Ray was not the lone killer as people had been made to believe.

Nevertheless, Swanson has presented a good book.  It is yet another perspective of Dr. King and his assassination.  I am sure he has an explanation on the issues I have raised regarding the accuracy or narration of the book?  For some the omissions I have pointed out may appear irrelevant but the factual record is clear and if the King family supported granting James Earl Ray a trial to determine if in fact there were other conspirator’s, then who is for Swanson or me to refute their desires or motivation?

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