Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with Dr. Benjamin Spock and Bernard Lee at Chicago's anti-war march in March of 1967., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Rhodesia's link to Martin Luther King's murder
By Southern Times Writers
PANW Editor's Note: This is a very interesting book review, however, it begins with the assumption that James Earl Ray actually killed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. There is much evidence and speculation that Ray, who may or may not have been involved in the conspiracy to assassinate King, was not the person who pulled the trigger. Some suggest that Ray was the fall guy for the actual assassins and conspirators who may have been more powerful interests backed by the US government .
Harare and Windhoek - The man who killed iconic American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jnr, in April 1968 - James Earl Ray - tried to escape to Rhodesia after the assassination and was arrested in Britain while finalizing his plans.
The revelation that the assassin wanted to secure safety in white supremacist Rhodesia in the book 'Hellhound on His Trail' by historical novelist Hampton Sides last year, lends credence to long-held suspicions that Ray was not acting alone and was paid to murder MLK Jnr.
The claim that Ray was a lone gunman acting on his own volition has been questioned for decades due to the planning behind the assassination and the large sums of cash that were evidently at the killer's disposal.
A jailhouse note allegedly written by Ray states: 'I got a murder charge instead of (US$) 10 000 for listening to promises.'
Re-examining MLK Jnr's murder in 1977-79, a US Congressional Committee found that Ray's 'predominant motive lay in an expectation of monetary gain'.
While there is no direct evidence that Rhodesia itself was involved in the assassination, the revelations provide a fascinating look at how white supremacists appeared to work together towards a common purposes across several countries.
'Hellhound on his Trail' is an intriguing account of the events leading to MLK Jnr's assassination; the international manhunt for the assassin across America, Canada and Britain; as well as the arrest, trial, imprisonment and death of Ray in jail in 1998 due to liver failure.
The author used hundreds of sources - including other books, newspaper cuttings, interviews, FBI files, memoirs, and official documents - to reconstruct how Ray stalked MLK Jnr, killed him and was arrested in London en route to Rhodesia.
Ray developed an interest in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, in Puerto Vallarta where he bought a copy of US News & World Report in which he found an advertisement soliciting immigrants to that country, according to 'Hellhound on His Trail'.
'The idea appealed to him so much that on December 28, 1967, he wrote to the American-Southern Africa Council in Washington, DC to inquire about relocating to Salisbury,' Sides writes.
According to Sides, Ray - using the alias 'Galt' - at the time, wrote: 'My reason for writing is that I am considering immigrating to Rhodesia,' adding that 'representatives from the John Birch Society had referred him to the council.'
Another book by Gerald Posner, 'Killing the Dream', says Ray made a number of contacts with the California Chapter of the Friends of Rhodesia.
He was put in touch with this group by the Los Angeles area John Birch Society, which also helped Ray obtain information on how to get to Rhodesia where he could work with Ian Smith who 'was doing a good job'.
Ray made a number of trips to Orange County where he met the Free Rhodesia Committee.
While in Los Angeles, he wrote to the president of the California chapter of the Friends of Rhodesia raising more questions about immigration and inquiring about how he might subscribe to a pro-Ian Smith journal titled 'Rhodesian Commentary'.
Ray was apparently an occasional reader of 'Thunderbolt', a hate rag published out of Birmingham by the virulently segregationist National States Rights Party.
He was enamored of the party chairman, a flamboyant, outrageous race-baiter named Jesse Benjamin Stoner.
Born at the foot of Tennessee's Lookout Mountain, a Ku Klux Klansman since his teens, JB Stoner believed – literally - that Anglo-Saxons were God's chosen people.
Among his more memorable statements, Stoner called Hitler 'too moderate', referred to blacks as 'an extension of the ape family', and said that 'being a Jew should be a crime punishable by death'.
In 1968 Ray became an active volunteer for George Wallace's bid for the presidency.
The former Governor of Alabama - a die-hard segregationist - appealed to people like Ray for whom racism was a fact of life.
Wallace's running mate was right wing Air Force general, Curtis LeMay.
LeMay was also a member of the notorious Orange County Lincoln Club which played a critical role in getting Richard Nixon elected that year.
Another writer, George McMillan in his book 'The Making of an Assassin: The Life of James Earl Ray,' said of the assassin: 'He came to love German politics. He carried a picture of Hitler, his idol. He would show it to people.
'Jimmy talked 'Hitler politics'. Jimmy had become an impassioned proponent of the Nazi philosophy. His pledge to Nazism was itself peculiarly satisfying.'
According to McMillan, James Earl Ray was determined to go to Germany and give up his US citizenship, and he signed up to join the Army at age 17.
'By then he was giving the Heil Hitler salute in public, did it when he visited home. His first army assignment was at Nuremberg, where he served as a jeep driver in an MP unit.
'As MP he would beat up black GI's who flirted with Germans. What appealed to Jimmy in the first place about Hitler was that he would make the US an all-white country, no Jews or Negroes.
'Jimmy had really believed he could be in on reviving the Nazi Party.'
Such influences probably left Ray with the firm belief that he was better off getting Rhodesian citizenship.
He was an ardent believer in the cause of white rule and racial apartheid that he planned, as he later put it, to 'serve two or three years in one of them mercenary armies' in Southern Africa.
According to 'Hellhound on His Trail', after shooting MLK Jnr in April 1968 in Memphis, Ray was headed for Georgia, and possibly Mexico, although the larger goal was to reach Southern Africa.
Sides says: 'Rhodesia – the word dangled before him like a banner.'
He knew that under the pariah government of Ian Smith, Rhodesia observed no extradition treaties with the United States.
Ray liked what Smith was doing in Rhodesia, and he had an idea that if he could ever reach Salisbury, the people there would welcome him as a hero, grant him instant citizenship, and harbor him from any attempts at prosecution.
'I thought I was going to get away,' he is quoted as having said after he was arrested. 'I thought I could get to Africa and those folks over there wouldn't send me back.'
And because Rhodesia was an English-speaking country, he thought he would blend with the population.
Sides says he wasn't exactly sure what he would do once he got to Rhodesia and considered the possibilities of becoming a bartender, a locksmith or serve as a mercenary.
The latter option would have been easy for him to do as largely apartheid and CIA-funded mercenary groups were operational virtually across the whole of Southern Africa and Ray had military training.
Another intriguing link with Rhodesia originated in Ray's hometown of St Louis, through a wealthy patent attorney named John Sutherland.
Sutherland had a portfolio of stocks and other securities worth nearly half million US dollars - investments that included sizeable holdings in Rhodesia.
One of St Louis's most ardent segregationists, he was founder of the St Louis White Citizens Council and an active member of the John Birth Society (he was a personal friend of its founder, Robert Welch).
He had become immersed in a right-wing business organization called the Southern States Industrial Council.
Such associations drew Ray closer to Rhodesia.
'…the idea of Rhodesia burned in his imagination, the promise of sanctuary and refuge, the possibility of living in a society where people understood.'
Before he could get there, however Ray was determined to make a brief detour to Atlanta where he intended to pick up his few belongings.
It may have seemed brazenly risky to head straight for the hometown of the man he'd just killed, yet there was also a clever counter-intuition in such a course.
The move also raised suspicion that Ray was not working alone and was confident his powerful co-conspirators could protect him.
As he passed through Holly Springs, New Albany and Tupelo, Ray trolled radio waves for news on the assassination.
Somewhere along the way, he heard a bulletin that the police were looking for a white Mustang driven by a 'well-dressed white man'.
Hearing this bit of news changed everything and he knew he immediately had to ditch the Mustang and he would have to abandon the thought of going through Mexico.
Instead, he would head for Canada and then try to get to Rhodesia from there.
Ray was also sure that the state of Alabama – from where George Wallace hailed - would praise him for killing MLK Jnr and shield him from his pursuers.
'Hellhound on His Trail' then chronicles Ray's escape into Canada, assuming a new name and passport under the name Ramon Sneyd, before flying to London, then to Portugal, and back to London with the hope of proceeding to Rhodesia.
Ray's brother, John, who was interrogated by the FBI during the manhunt, recalls visiting his young brother in prison during an earlier incarceration in an American jail from where he later escaped.
The FBI agent recalls getting an earful from the young Ray about Ian Smith and the good job he was doing down in Rhodesia.
John Ray characterized himself as 'a mild segregationist' and soon he confided his frustration to the FBI agents.
'What's all the excitement about?' he wondered aloud. 'He only killed a nigger. If he'd killed a white man, you wouldn't be here.'
According to 'Hellhound on His Trail', Ray - using the name Ramon Sneyd - on May 7 touched down at Heathrow Airport in London in preparation for the trip to Rhodesia.
He stayed in London for ten days; holed up in his room, reading newspapers and magazines – and desperately trying to find a way to Rhodesia.
When he was finally arrested he was trying to board a flight from London to Brussels to get more information on how to get to Rhodesia and join a mercenary outfit.
He was also found in possession of a Liberty Chief pistol.
Asked why he was carrying a gun, Ray stammered. 'Uh, well. I'm really thinking of going on to Rhodesia and things aren't too good there just now.'
The contents of his suitcase were quickly inventoried, and - in the words of one Scotland Yard official - 'proved most enlightening'.
Among other items, investigators found a map of Portugal, a guide to Rhodesia, two books on hypnotism, and a well-marked paperback titled 'Psycho-Cybernetics'.
None of the newspapers or newsmagazines later mentioned how close Ray had come to getting away with his crime - or that if he'd made it to Rhodesia, extraditing him would have been nearly impossible.
Ray was never reconciled to his capture at Heathrow and his failure to make it to Rhodesia and kept reliving it in his mind.
If he'd only made it onto that plane to Brussels, he was confident that he could have found a cheap way to reach Rhodesia, or Angola.
He came within a hairbreadth of making it.
'He just hated black people,' one officer recalled. 'He said so on many occasions. He called them 'niggers'.
'In fact, he said he was going to Africa to shoot some more. He mentioned the (French) Foreign Legion.
'He seemed to have some sort of wild fantasy that he was going to do something of this nature.'
• Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr and the International Hunt for His Assassin, by Hampton Sides. Published by Doubleday.