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Mar 10 Confessing to shooting Martin Luther King

Today in 1969, James A Ray confessed to the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King. He had been arrested two months after King's death, at London Heathrow Airport attempting to fly to Brussels on a false Canadian passport. At the check-in, it was noticed the name on his passport, Sneyd, was on a Royal Canadian Mounted Police watchlist. The UK quickly extradited Ray to Tennessee, where he was charged with King's murder. He confessed to the crime on March 10, his 41st birthday, after pleading guilty he was sentenced to 99 years in prison. Three days later, he recanted his confession and fired his attorney, claiming he had entered a guilty plea in an effort to avoid the death sentence. This has led to a flourishing of conspiracy theories.

The Reverend Martin Luther King is famous for being a civil rights leader, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 "for his non-violent struggle for civil rights for the Afro-American population." He viewed this struggle for justice as an essential part of his ministry as a Baptist minister, In his own words ‘I was a preacher of the Gospel. This was my first calling and it still remains my greatest commitment. You know, actually all that I do in civil rights I do because I consider it a part of my ministry. I have no other ambitions in life but to achieve excellence in the Christian ministry.’ His grandfather began the family’s long tenure as pastors of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta (pic) , serving from 1914 to 1931; his father has served from then until the present, and from 1960 until his death Martin Luther King acted as co-pastor. A strong student and outstanding orator, after three years of theological study at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania he was elected president of a predominantly white senior class. In his third year at Crozer, King became romantically involved with a white woman who worked as a cook in the cafeteria and planned to marry her, but friends advised against it, saying that an interracial marriage would provoke animosity from both blacks and whites. This could potentially damaging his chances of ever pastoring a church in the South. King ended the relationship six months later and tearfully told a friend that he could not endure his mother's pain over the marriage. He continued to have lingering feelings toward the woman he left; one friend was quoted as saying, "He never recovered”, and later on he struggled with his attraction to different women.

He completed a doctorate at Boston University whilst attending philosophy classes at Harvard University as an audit student. His dissertation was titled A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman and came to national attention when he lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott against the policy of racial segregation on the public transit system of Montgomery, the Monday after Rosa Parks, an African-American woman, was arrested for her refusal to surrender her seat to a white person. The Campaign was ultimately successful and led to a United States Supreme Court decision that declared the Alabama and Montgomery laws that segregated buses were unconstitutional. Although the backlash against the court victory was quick, brutal, someone fired a shotgun through the front door of Martin Luther King's home, two buses were fired upon by snipers, the City suspended bus services for several weeks on account of the violence. King published a book, his first, called Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. and later was signing copies of his book in Harlem when he narrowly escaped death after being stabbed. A mentally ill black woman who thought that King was conspiring against her with communists—stabbed him in the chest with a letter opener. His second book called The Measure of A Man, contained his sermons which argued for man's need for God's love and criticized the racial injustices of Western civilization "What is Man?" and "The Dimensions of a Complete Life." However his memory has become immortal because of a 17-minute speech, later known as "I Have a Dream" delivered to over 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.. In the speech's most famous passage – in which he departed from his prepared text, he draws from imagery from the book of Amos in the Old Testament.

Five years later, in 1968, King was planning a national occupation of Washington, D.C., to be called the Poor People's Campaign, when he was shot by Ray at 6:01 p.m. at a motel in Memphis, Tennessee. After emergency chest surgery, King died and his autopsy revealed that though only 39 years old, he "had the heart of a 60 year old", which his biographer Richard Branch attributed to the stress of 13 years in the civil rights movement. His death was followed by riots in many U.S. cities a testament to what an iconic figure he had become, but with a complex legacy for historians to unpack.


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