An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King

Overview

Martin Luther King Jr was the most powerful and eloquent champion of the poor and oppressed in US history, and at the height of his fame in the mid-sixties seemed to offer the real possibility of a new and radical beginning for liberal politics in the USA. In 1968, he was assassinated; the movement for social and economic change has never recovered.

The conviction of James Earl Ray for his murder has never looked even remotely safe, and when William Pepper began to investigate ...

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Overview

Martin Luther King Jr was the most powerful and eloquent champion of the poor and oppressed in US history, and at the height of his fame in the mid-sixties seemed to offer the real possibility of a new and radical beginning for liberal politics in the USA. In 1968, he was assassinated; the movement for social and economic change has never recovered.

The conviction of James Earl Ray for his murder has never looked even remotely safe, and when William Pepper began to investigate the case it was the start of a twenty-five year campaign for justice. At a civil trial in 1999, supported by the King family, seventy witnesses under oath set out the details of the conspiracy Pepper had unearthed: the jury took just one hour to find that Ray was not responsible for the assassination, that a wide-ranging conspiracy existed, and that government agents were involved.

An Act of State lays out the extraordinary facts of the King story—of the huge groundswell of optimism engendered by his charismatic radicalism, of how plans for his execution were laid at the very heart of government and the military, of the disinformation and media cover-ups that followed every attempt to search out the truth. As shocking as it is tragic, An Act of State remains the most compelling and authoritative account of how King’s challenge to the US establishment led inexorably to his murder.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“For a quarter of a century, Bill Pepper conducted an independent investigation of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. He opened his files to our family, encouraged us to speak with the witnesses, and represented our family in the civil trial against the conspirators. The jury affirmed his findings, providing our family with a long-sought sense of closure and peace, which had been denied by official disinformation and cover-ups. Now the findings of his exhaustive investigation and additional revelations from the trial are presented in the pages of this important book. We recommend it highly to everyone who seeks the truth about Dr. King’s assassination.”—Coretta Scott King

“No one has done more than Dr. William F. Pepper to keep alive the quest for the truth concerning the violent death of Martin Luther King who in courageous and important words once said ‘The greatest purveyor of violence on earth is my own government.’ In An Act of State, Bill pepper argues that very government violence was turned on America’s greatest prophet of non-violent change.”—Ramsey Clark, US Attorney General, 1967-1969

The Washington Post
William Pepper's An Act of State advances the argument that the assassination of King was, as the title suggests, the product of a national plot involving the highest levels of government, the military, state and federal law enforcement and organized crime. Pepper is in the odd position of having been both an associate of King's and one of James Earl Ray's defense attorneys. Pepper took Ray's case because he believed the convicted killer was a patsy, framed to cover the footprints of various commercial and political interests that stood to benefit from King's death. — William Jelani Cobb
Publishers Weekly
Forget everything you think you know, Pepper insists. James Earl Ray did not pull the trigger. The journalist-turned-lawyer's previous title, Orders to Kill: The Truth Behind the Murder of Martin Luther King Jr., was more a prelude to this title than the final word. Twenty years after James Earl Ray was convicted, Pepper set out to clear him; in the process, he brought to light reams of evidence that were ignored in the original trial. The key to his case is Loyd Jowers, a bar owner who claims to have disposed of the murder weapon at the request of a local mob figure. Partially on the strength of the Orders to Kill material, Pepper won the support of King's wife and children, who brought Jowers and "unknown co-conspirators" to trial in a civil wrongful death suit in 1999. Dozens of witnesses contributed to a forceful, detailed case that accused the FBI, the CIA, the U.S. military, the Memphis police, and local and national organized crime leaders. After only an hour of deliberation, the jury found for the King family. The accusers, led by Pepper, cried vindication and fully expected to be at the center of one of the biggest news stories of the century. But the trial and the verdict barely registered in the media. Appalled by the silence that followed, Pepper remained determined to bring the details of his exhaustive probe and subsequent civil case to the public, and the result is this exacting book, dense with evidence and analysis of the murder. Pepper sets the tone by recalling the state of civil unrest in this country during the late 1960s and why King's radical activism was such a threat to government and corporate leaders. Simply put, Pepper claims those in power were scared to death of the mass mobilization King's Poor People's Campaign might have inspired. Pepper gradually introduces the vast cast of characters in a dizzying murder conspiracy that winds from a Memphis bar through the shadows of organized crime to the far reaches of national government. He carefully maps each player's place and role in the tangled web and doggedly tries to stick to a straightforward narrative. The number of unanswered questions complicates those efforts, but does not cloud the evidence that Ray was not the shooter. Pepper attempts nothing less than a rewrite of history, and a spurring of further investigation. While his moralizing epilogue on the deterioration of democracy is distracting, it is heartfelt, and honors Pepper's commitment to King's legacy. (Jan. 20) Forecast: With a release timed to coincide with King's birthday and with Black History Month, this embargoed book will find its way onto display tables and hook browsers. Reviews in political weeklies that reassess the trial and evidence could lead to further print coverage, as could the Trent Lott scandal aftermath. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
According to the author, James Earl Ray was neither a racist nor a violent man capable of murdering Martin Luther King. Instead, Ray, who later recanted his admission of guilt, was merely a patsy in a complex plot that included the U.S. government, the Tennessee state government, the Memphis police department, and the U.S. Army working with the Mafia. Pepper (Orders To Kill: The Truth Behind the Murder of Martin Luther King) served as James Earl Ray's attorney at the time of Ray's death in 1998. The Ray case, reopened in 1999 at the request of the King family, ended in a verdict that recognized a conspiracy beyond Ray but did not conclude that Ray was innocent. Pepper does present some plausible scenarios of the King assassination and its aftermath that he bases on the testimony of many witnesses, but his writing is repetitive and mired in turgid detail. Much of the book is a polemic against Gerald Posner's Killing the Dream: James Earl Ray and the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., which makes the case for Ray as the lone gunman. Libraries that own Posner may want to add Pepper's account for balance. Readers will have to choose which theory they believe, with no middle ground found in either book.-Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Pepper, a lawyer and longtime investigator into the King shooting, musters copious evidence pointing to James Earl Ray's not having acted alone. In the almost 35 years since King was assassinated, Pepper has gathered an impressive array of testimony and evidence that, to even determined skeptics, throws major doubt over the state's case against Ray. There is, most obviously, the verdict against Loyd Jowers in the wrongful-death civil suit brought by the King family. Then there is the avalanche of material-so much that it can tangle itself into a mare's nest in Pepper's rush to get it all down-from the circumstantial to the blatant, implicating the FBI, the intelligence services, and organized crime. And there are all the failures of the state to follow through on any number of leads that may have led to greater understanding of events. Pepper draws all of this information into his presentation, sometimes more and sometimes less cogently, yet the result is to show that something smells rotten in the state's case. Had Pepper stopped there, he would have made his point to fence-sitters. Unfortunately, he feels the need to square the King case with the evils of the "transnational corporate masters" who run the country through the military and the media-"responsible for broadcasting mind-numbing commercialization, and causing the dumbing down of viewers who are constantly exposed to the standardization of thought"-in a screed so aggressively and sanctimoniously trite that even readers who agree with the basic premise will instinctively recoil. In these polemics, Pepper is at his most inconsistent: "The silence from media organizations was deafening," he says of the Jowers verdict, thoughsuggesting later that it was a "mighty Wurlitzer" at "full volume." This tumble from passion to rant hurts Pepper, but the fundamental injustice of the handling of the King assassination survives his missteps.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781859846957
  • Publisher: Verso Books
  • Publication date: 1/28/2003
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

William F. Pepper is an English barrister and an American lawyer. He practices international human rights law from the US and from London, and has convened a seminar on international human rights at Oxford University. He has represented governments and heads of state, and has appeared as an expert on international law issues. He is the author of four other books and numerous articles.
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2008

    The Silence is Deafening

    I congratulate Mr William F. Pepper for his commitment and courage in publishing this meticulously documented and important book. It is extraordinary that very few Americans today even know that on 2 October, 1998 an action was filed ''Docket kit#97242TD'' by the Family of MLK vs Loyd Jowers and & Other Unknown Conspirators in Memphis or know that in 1999, a jury held that Loyd Jowers and others, INCLUDING GOVERNMENT AGENCIES, were parties to a conspiracy to do harm to Dr Martin Luther King. It is both shameful and frightening that notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence that there was a conspiracy in the assassination of Dr King and the judgement of the Court, the American media continues to maintain a deafening silence about this unresolved crime and terrible moment in America's history. I have no doubt that should the contents of this book ever become widely known, there would be a major public outcry. I highly recommend this book to all seekers of truth.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2005

    chilling, sad

    ' The greatest purveyor of violence on earth is my own government.' So said Reverend King about the U.S.A....Dr William Pepper's incredible research and then trial of the actual killing of MLK is something every American should at least have heard about. But as even Dr. Pepper said, the sounds following the evidence and the long trial, as obvious and as tight a case as it was, was deafening. You're looking at the FBI, the Memphis Police Department, even the CIA, all involved in the murder of this great man, and no one I talk to has even HEARD of this trial, this book, this proof. So who's hiding the truth?? I talk to black people, and they all know the government had a hand in the execution of this great man, but not one white person ever even has a clue, and im white. So whose covering up? Thats the question. If you read the book, and cross reference as i did, as a trained historian, do research beyond the book to gage its accuracy, and come up with a positive picture,it chills me to the bone that 26 years later people still believe that James Earl Ray killed Martin Luther King. I found this book in central Manhattan in a conspicuous place in Barnes and Noble and bought 4 copies, just sure it would be a bestseller. I sent a copy to my brother, a teacher in california, i gave one to my daughter, a crime reporter for television in New York City, and i gave one to her friend, a journalist in NYC, and kept one. So now at least the 4 of us know. What a pathetic tragedy. Maybe one day a documentary can be done on this. I wonder who'se lurking out there still to quiet those of us who know. Otherwise,it would be common knowledge by now.What a horrible thought....

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