Texas Liberal

All People Matter

Hellhound On His Trail Is Useful Addition To The Study Of Martin Luther King—Extreme Right-Wing Views Remain A Threat

An addition to my Martin Luther King Reading & Reference list for the next year will be Hellhound On His Trail–The Stalking Of Martin Luther King Jr. And The International Hunt For His Assassin. This book is written by Hampton Sides.

This book is an account of how James Earl Ray, living as an escaped convict with the alias of Eric Starvo Galt, plotted the death of Dr. King.

(Above–James Earl Ray.)

Martin Luther King was killed on April 4, 1968.

I’ve long found the shooting of Rev. King to be an emotional subject and I’ve  avoided the topic as I’ve studied King. When in Memphis, Tennessee 12 years ago, I did not visit the Lorraine Motel. The Lorraine is where King was killed as he stood on a balcony.( There is now a museum at this location)

I was just a few blocks from the Lorraine while I was in Memphis. I just did not figure that seeing where King had died would add to my knowledge. I did not want to see such a terrible spot.

I decided to read Hellhound after reading a review written by Janet Maslin in the New York Times. Here is the Maslin review.

(The book was released in conjunction with a PBS documentary on Ray and King called Roads To Memphis. I have not watched this show. Roads can be watched online at the PBS web home.)

In Hellhound, the narrative details the months leading up to King’s shooting by following the lives of both King and Ray. There is no mystery in the outcome—Ray will kill King in Memphis. But the story is told with such discipline and with such an inevitable detail-by-detail push towards a tragedy  you wish you could stop, that you feel caught up in the event. There are also chapters in the book detailing the Civil rights movement after King’s death and, as the title of the book suggests, the search for Ray after he pulled the trigger.

( The Washington Post review of Hellhound, written by King scholar David Garrow, has links to two books previously written on King’s assassination.)

While it is no surprise that Ray had been a volunteer for the 1968 presidential campaign of segregationist  George Wallace, it is hard not get angry that a man in many ways indistinguishable from someone today attending a Tea Party rally or calling Rush Limbaugh, could do such harm. It is a reminder  that racist views and racist people can’t safely be dismissed even as much as we would like to tune them out.

This is the virtue of the book beyond the value it has as a well-told story. You must remain involved and aware. Not is some crazy vigilante sense–but in the regard that your actions in life help lessen the hate we have in this society. And that when the  hate can’t be stopped, you must make an ongoing effort to be on the side of justice and concern for others.

Ray’s alias of “Galt” may have come from a character in a novel by the brutal Ayn Rand. Ms. Rand wrote novels of extreme free market economics that extolled the virtues of being a selfish person. The connection between these law of the jungle economic views and States Rights’ racism can be found easily enough in the collection of political stands held by many in the Tea Party movement and in the Republican Party today.

Hellhound does not deal much with the idea of the King Assassination as a conspiracy. I would not have read this book had that angle been the focus. All we have to do is look at the hatred we see in our society today to know that the foundation is always in place for bad acts to be committed.

I recommend Hellhound as a well-told story, as a useful report on an important event in American history, and as a reminder of both the progress made and the work still to be done in the never-ending fight to make America a more just and decent society.

The good news is that there are many millions of people in our nation and in our world who know right from wrong, and who make being a decent person a big part of they are both in their political and personal lives.

May 18, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: