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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 | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beale Street In Memphis, Tennessee—A Lousy Place


One of the worst places I’ve been is Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee. Beale Street is famous for its place in the history of blues music.

I wrote a poem about how bad it was.

Below the poem is a recent column from The Nation about Beale Street and the fight over stewardship of the Lorraine Motel. The article was titled “Thieves of Black History” and was written by Gary Younge. 

The Lorraine Motel is where Martin Luther King was shot and killed. 

The poem is called Memphis, Tennessee  

Martin Luther King

Was shot in 1968

In Memphis, Tennessee. 

Poor black kids

Turn handstands for handouts

From drunken Southern whites

On Beale Street. (Birthplace of the Blues!)


In Memphis, Tennessee 

They can dress up everyone

In an Elvis costume

Have a big Elvis parade

Down Historic Beale Street

On the Fourth of July,

In Memphis, Tennessee. 

And have all the Elvises

Water-ski on the Mississippi

Under a canopy

Of Red, White & Blue Fireworks. 

It won’t matter. 

Because Martin Luther King was shot

In Memphis, Tennessee

And it did not teach

That city

A damn thing.

Below are the first two paragraphs from the The Nation commentary. Here is the link to the full article. It is well worth the time to read the full piece. (The above photo is of the Lorraine Motel balcony where Rev. King was shot.) 

If Beale Street could talk, as James Baldwin famously imagined, then somewhere around Memphis’s South Fourth Street it would let out an agonizing cry. Facing east, the garish neon commodification of the blues stands behind you–a trap for tourists and an insult to the legacy of a great musical tradition. Commerce here is thriving from a culture it doesn’t respect. Ahead sprawls the desolation and poverty of the communities that gave blues its meaning and to whom the blues returned some dignity.

A block away at the Martin Luther King Jr. Labor Center, around eighty people have gathered to prevent the pilfering of yet more local black heritage. Twenty years ago, the Lorraine Motel, where King was assassinated, was turned into a National Civil Rights Museum. The chair of the executive committee of its board, J.R. “Pitt” Hyde III, is a wealthy white Republican. Charged with safeguarding a vital landmark in the nation’s racial history, Hyde lobbied for the defeat of Harold Ford Jr.’s bid for the vacant Senate seat from Tennessee in what was widely regarded as the most racist campaign of the 2006 election. While Hyde has been representing the civil rights museum, the company he founded, AutoZone, has been embroiled in a longstanding EEOC racial discrimination lawsuit.

Please click here for a post on Martin Luther King’s great Sermon Unfulfilled Dreams.

December 13, 2007 Posted by | History, Martin & Malcolm, Music | , , , , , , | 15 Comments