Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin

Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin

by Hampton Sides

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Edgar Award Nominee
One of the Best Books of the Year: O, The Oprah Magazine, Time, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, San Francisco Chronicle

With a New Afterword

On April 4, 1968, James Earl Ray shot Martin Luther King at the Lorraine Motel. The nation was shocked, enraged, and saddened. As chaos erupted across the country and mourners gathered at King's funeral, investigators launched a sixty-five day search for King’s assassin that would lead them across two continents. With a blistering, cross-cutting narrative that draws on a wealth of dramatic unpublished documents, Hampton Sides, bestselling author of Ghost Soldiers, delivers a non-fiction thriller in the tradition of William Manchester's The Death of a President and Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. With Hellhound On His Trail, Sides shines a light on the largest manhunt in American history and brings it to life for all to see.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385533195
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/27/2010
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 214,317
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

A native of Memphis, Hampton Sides is an award-winning editor of Outside and the author of the bestselling histories Blood and Thunder and Ghost Soldiers. He lives in New Mexico with his wife, Anne, and their three sons.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

City of White Gold

In early May 1967, three hundred miles downstream from St. Louis, the citizens of Memphis stood along the cobblestoned banks, enjoying the musky coolness of the river. Seventy-five thousand people, dressed to be seen, waited in the twilight. They’d come from all the secret krewes —from the Mystic Society of the Memphi, from Osiris and RaMet and Sphinx. They’d come from all the clubs—Chickasaw, University, Colonial, Hunt and Polo, the Memphis Country Club—and from the garden societies. The good families, the old families, in their finest James Davis clothes, bourbon flasks in hand, assembled for the start of the South’s Greatest Party.

The brown Mississippi, wide with northern snowmelt, was a confusion of crosscurrents and boils. In the main channel, whole trees could be seen shooting downstream. A mile across the river lay the floodplain of Arkansas, a world of chiggers and alligator gars and water moccasins that lived in swampy oxbow lakes. On the long sandbars, feral pigs ran among graveyards of driftwood and rotten cypress stumps.

But in the clearings beyond these wild margins were hundreds and hundreds of miles of cotton fields. Cotton as far as the eye could see, row after perfect row. Gossypium hirsutum. White gold, mined from the world’s richest alluvium.

Memphis was built on the spot where the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, in 1541, became the first European to lay eyes on the Mississippi River. The city was founded 278 years later by Andrew Jackson and a group of his investor cronies, and named for the ancient Egyptian capital near the Giza pyramids. Memphis didn’t really take off, however, until the dense hardwood forests along the river began to be cleared in the mid-nineteenth century, finally making farmable the flat, rich floodplain known as the Mississippi Delta. As the country slid toward Civil War, Memphis became the capital of a region that was constructing a last frenzied iteration of Southern planter society. If the Delta came late to cotton, it came to it with a vengeance, and with all the defiant desperation of someone following a wounded creed.

Cotton had grown along the Nile near the original Memphis, and cotton was what modern Memphis had come to celebrate on this fine humid evening of May 10, 1967. In the fields of Arkansas, and down in nearby Mississippi, the little darlings had already begun to push through the dirt, the crop dusters were preparing to rain down their chemicals, and the old true cycle was in the offing. Now it was time for Memphians to pay homage and to bless another season in cotton’s splendid realm.

The thirty-third annual Cotton Carnival, Memphis’s answer to Mardi Gras, was about to begin. Later in the week, there would be luncheons, trade shows, and charity balls. A beauty contest would declare the fairest Maid of Cotton. Many thousands would visit the giant midway and attend parades with elaborate floats, some of them spun from cotton, depicting the gone-but-not-forgotten Old South and the treachery of the long-snouted boll weevil. All week there would be parties on the rooftop of the Peabody Hotel, where mallard ducks lived in a scaled-down mansion when they weren’t marching down a red carpet to splash around in the lobby fountain.

Tonight was the high pageant that kicked off the whole week—the majestic arrival of the King and Queen, sitting upon their thrones with their sequined court all around them, on a great glittery barge that was scheduled to nudge into the Memphis harbor shortly after sunset. It was a celebration not only of cotton but also of the peculiarly settled life that thrived on it—the life of dove hunts and pig roasts and debutante balls, the genteel agrarian world that could still be found in the fertile realms surrounding Memphis.

Cotton, cotton everywhere. Crane operators, hoisting dozens of five- hundred-pound cotton bales, had constructed colossal arches that spanned the downtown streets. All attendees were urged to wear cotton, and they did: party girls in crinoline dresses, dandies in seersucker suits, children in starched oxford cloth. People even ate cotton candy while they waited with the crowds for the Royal Barge to arrive.

Representatives from all echelons of the Delta cotton world had joined the masses on the river—the factors, the classers, the ginners, the brokers, the seed sellers, the plantation owners, the compress owners,

the board members of the Cotton Exchange, the loan officers from the Union Planters Bank, the chemical engineers who’d learned how to tease out the plant’s oils and secret compounds for every industrial purpose Mammon could devise.

Cotton’s presence, and cotton’s past, could be felt everywhere along the shadowed waterfront. Behind the cheering crowds, high on the magnolia-lined bluff once occupied by Chickasaw Indians, sat Confederate Park, with its bronze statue of Jefferson Davis, who’d made his home in Memphis after the Civil War. A block from the park was the place on Adams Avenue where Nathan Bedford Forrest once operated a giant slave market, said to be the South’s largest, that boasted “the best selected assortment of field hands, house servants, and mechanics . . . with fresh supplies of likely Young Negroes.”

Running lengthwise along the same bluff lay Front Street, cotton’s main drag. In the upstairs classing rooms, sharp-eyed savants still graded cotton samples by pure intuition under north-facing skylights— judging according to quaint industry distinctions like “strict low middling” or “strict good ordinary.” Memphis remained one of the largest cotton markets in the world, with massive fortunes made and lost and made again. Many of the names were legends—Dunavant, Cook, Turley, Hohenberg, Allenberg—high rollers in a vaguely druidic enterprise. In October, during harvest time, the skies above Front Street still swirled with snows of lint.

Cotton cotton cotton. Memphis couldn’t get enough of it. Cotton was still king. It would always be king.


In truth, though no one wanted to talk about it on that roistering night in 1967, the old world of Delta cotton was in serious trouble. Life on the plantations had changed so fast it was hardly recognizable. Soybeans had made inroads as the new mono-crop of choice. Polyester had encroached upon the American wardrobe. Massive mechanized cotton pickers, along with new soups of pesticides and herbicides, had rendered largely obsolete the life of the Delta sharecropper. Thus demoted by petrochemicals and machines, many thousands of black field hands and their families steadily left the plantations over the decades and came to Memphis—the nearest city, and the only American city of any size named after an African capital.

Other than mule skinning or chopping cotton, though, most Delta field hands had little in the way of marketable skills when they came to the city. Some found success playing the blues on Beale Street—the central thoroughfare of black Memphis. But most settled into low-end jobs that merely recapitulated the racial and socioeconomic hierarchy they’d known on the plantations. Many became maids, janitors, waiters, yardmen, cooks, stevedores. Some had no choice but to take the lowest- end job of all: they reported to the Public Works Department and became garbagemen.

At least they’d come to a city with a history that was rich and gothic and weird. Memphis, this city of 600,000 people wedged in the southwestern crotch of Tennessee, had always had a touch of madness but also a prodigious and sometimes profane sense of humor. It was a town known for its outlandish characters and half-demented geniuses: wrestlers, riverboat captains, inventors, gamblers, snake-oil salesmen, musicians high on some peculiar native vibe that could be felt but whose existence could not be proved. For 150 years, all the pain and pathos of the river seemed to wash up on the cobblestoned banks. In 1878, the city was nearly completely destroyed by a yellow fever epidemic, but the Metropolis of the American Nile had recovered, madder and stranger and more full of brawling ambition than ever. Memphis, as one writer famously put it, “was built on a bluff and run on the same principle.”

It was a city that, since its very inception, had been perched on the racial fault line. The first mayor, Marcus Brutus Winchester, created a major scandal by falling for, and eventually marrying, a “woman of color.” One of the area’s most fascinating citizens in the late 1820s, a Scottish-born utopian named Fanny Wright, created an experimental commune of slaves whom she sought to educate and bring into full citizenship. Several generations later, Memphis gave the world Ida B. Wells, an early titan of the civil rights movement, a woman of profound courage who, in the 1890s, repeatedly risked assassination with eloquent protests against lynching. Then there was the ever- cryptic Mr. Forrest, who quit his slave mart and took up a sword in the Civil War, becoming one of the most wickedly brilliant generals in American history. After the war he returned to Memphis, where, after briefly serving as the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, he apparently experienced an epiphany—renouncing the Klan with seeming genuineness and calling for racial reconciliation shortly before his death.

But music was the city’s greatest gift and particular genius: the blues of W. C. Handy’s Beale Street, the soul of Stax Records, and a certain interracial sound stew that a redneck wizard named Sam Phillips cooked up in a tiny studio on Union Avenue, less than a hundred yards from where Forrest lay buried. At its essence, the music of Memphis was about the fecund intermingling of black and white. Elvis Presley, coaxed and prodded by Phillips, found a way to transmute the raw sound of Beale Street into something that would resonate across the world. The stars, white and black, who had passed through the studios and nightclubs of Memphis were as numerous as they were legendary: not just Elvis, but Rufus Thomas, Johnny Cash, B. B. King, Albert King, Carl Perkins, Ike Turner, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carla Thomas, Isaac Hayes, Roy Orbison, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Otis Redding, John Lee Hooker, Memphis Minnie, Memphis Slim. The phantom- like Robert Johnson, perhaps the greatest of the Delta bluesmen, lived in and around Memphis much of his short, tragic life. It could be argued that over the decades, Memphis’s musical ferment had done more to integrate the country than a hundred pieces of legislation.

In a way, cotton was at the center of the ferment, for cotton had spawned the blues, and cotton had built the city that gave the blues its first wider expression. But there was no mistaking the fact that most black folks in Memphis were good and done with cotton, and they hated most everything about the hairy prickly shrub that had so long enslaved them. Certainly not many black people were to be found on the banks of the river on that May night in 1967, awaiting the arrival of the Royal Barge.


The skies over Arkansas ripened to a final brilliant red before closing into darkness. It seemed as though the sun had literally buried itself in cotton fields. An orchestra played strains of Vivaldi, and the heavens crackled with fireworks.

Then, from under the bridge, the dazzling vessel slipped into view, with the crowds gasping in wonder. At first it was just a burst of bright light, a diaphanous vision floating out on the currents. As it drew nearer to the harbor, the ravishing details began to emerge. The barge was the size of a football field, with a giant art deco cotton boll rising over the sparkling set. Egyptian motifs were woven into the decorations—pyramids, sphinxes, hieroglyphics: the Old South meets the land of the pharaohs.

Seated on their thrones high up in the towering boll were King Joseph and Queen Blanche, 1967’s monarchs, wearing their crowns, holding their scepters. As always, they’d been chosen in secret, by some obscure protocol known only to the Mystic Society of the Memphi. As always, he was an older man, a business potentate, while she was a nubile paragon of Southern pulchritude, college aged and presumably a virgin. They were blindingly white people, in blindingly white clothes, sitting high in their resplendent perch. In unison, they cupped their gloved hands and gave the crowds tiny swiveling waves, as if to say, Here we are! . . . There you are! . . . We’re all here!

More than a hundred people made up the royal court, all posed together on the barge like the largest wedding party ever assembled. There were the duchesses, the counts, the pages, the princesses and their tuxedoed escorts. There were the young girls, who curtsied with labored formality and attended the train of Her Majesty’s gown. There were the weevils, the masked green jesters whose identities were unknown. On one side of the Royal Barge stood the Ladies of the Realm— belles from plantation towns all over the Mississippi Delta. On the other side were the Ladies-in-Waiting—belles from the city, from good families, and of marriageable age.

The court moved about the barge in a carefully choreographed promenade. Everyone was smiling, bowing, waving, beaming. “Don’t get wise with me,” the king warned, “or I’ll have you all beheaded.” When the music reached a fever pitch, King Joseph and Queen Blanche rose and took a bow. All along the bluff, the seventy-five thousand loyal subjects erupted in thunderous cheers: Hail, King Cotton and His Queen!

Then, in a swirl of lights, the court began to parade off the stage, and off the barge, and onto the old cobblestones, the royals closely gaurded by uniformed young men dressed as Confederate colonels. Like Peabody ducks, the revelers strutted down a long red carpet to a waiting convoy of Cadillac convertibles and were whisked away to the first parties of the season.

Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of Hellhound On His Trail.

1. In Hellhound on His Trail, Hampton Sides examines a notorious moment in American history— the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., by James Earl Ray—and provides many never-before-revealed details about Ray, King, and the fateful events leading up to April 4, 1968. To fully appreciate the context of this tragic event in our nation’s past, your discussion group might consider reading about the civil rights era in the 1960s and the larger issues that surrounded King’s death. Here are some resources that offer interesting and useful information.

   • Britannica Online entries for the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination:

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/119368/Civil-Rights-Movement http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/318311/Martin-Luther-King-Jr

   • The website for the King Center:


   • PBS.org’s “Learn and Explore” section; search “Postwar United States (1945 to early 1970s)”:

            “Roads to Memphis” American Experience Film

2. Which characters came alive for you in Hellhound on His Trail? Did you learn anything new about some of the figures involved in this period of American history, or have you come to think about certain individuals in a different way based on what you’ve read about them?

3. In his “Note to Readers,” Hampton Sides writes, “All writers sooner or later go back to the place where they came from.” Having been a child living in Memphis when Martin Luther King was shot, do you think Sides separated himself from the events he reported on in this book? Consider this question in context to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 or the tragic attacks of 9/11: Is it possible to be a journalistic observer of an occurrence like this when it happens in your hometown?

4. Every fact and incident in Hellhound on His Trail is impeccably sourced, yet it has the narrative drive of a thriller. What did you think of the author’s treatment of the subject matter? When reading about a major historical event such as this one, do you prefer a narrative like the one Sides has constructed, one that re-creates the immediacy of the time, or a more straightforward timeline of events? How might this book differ from other nonfiction titles you may have read on the subject?

5. There are many who believe that James Earl Ray was part of a larger conspiracy and was set up to be the “fall guy” for King’s assassination. Based on the evidence the author presents in Hellhound on His Trail, do you believe Ray was the sole person responsible for King’s death? If so, why do you think theories of a conspiracy have persisted?

6. Talk about Ray’s escape from the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City and his time on the lam before arriving in Memphis. Would he have been able to remain as anonymous today as he did then? Talk about how society has changed since 1968: are people more or less trusting of loners like Ray nowadays?

7. In Chapter 2, the author describes King as having reached a point in his career where he had “slipped in stature, even among his own people.” Were you aware of this dip in King’s popularity, and if so, was it surprising to you? Talk about history’s perpetuation of legend: in highlighting the achievements of a man such as King, do any cracks in his reputation become repaired, or disappear, over time?

8. Chapter 4 details FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s vendetta against King and his determination to expose King’s personal transgressions. But while Hoover and his staff regularly tried to leak salacious details to the press, in Sides’s words, “the media never took the bait.” Why do you think this was the case? How has the media evolved in the last 50 years, especially in matters regarding the private behavior of public figures?

9. Consider the political rise of George Wallace during this period, and the number of people—including James Earl Ray—who were galvanized by his presidential campaign, particularly his pro-segregationist, if not outright racist, positions. Does Wallace bear some responsibility for King’s assassination?

10. Do you see parallels between any of today’s political movements and George Wallace’s campaigns for office?

11. The manhunt that organized in the hours and days after King’s assassination was epic; most notably, more than 3,000 FBI agents took part, and it cost upwards of $2 million (which, adjusted for inflation, would be more than $13.6 million today). Considering how much Hoover despised King, was it startling that he mobilized the bureau to such an enormous extent to find his killer?

12. Martin Luther King “believed nonviolence was a more potent force for self-protection than any weapon,” (page 159). Given the threats he routinely faced—including the firebombing of his home in 1956 and being stabbed by a deranged woman in 1958—why did King nonetheless ban his staff from carrying guns or other weaponry?

13. “The bureau was well aware of the existence of bounties on King’s head,” (page 343). By not better protecting King in light of these threats, and for not realizing the impact his death would have on the nation, should the FBI have shared the blame for King’s death?

14. Book Two of Hellhound on His Trail opens with this quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “For murder, though it hath no tongue, will speak with most miraculous organ.” Why did the author choose to include this quote? What do you think this quote says about Ray?

15. Was it surprising to read about how easily Ray was able to slip out of Memphis after the shootings? Could he have been stopped sooner? Do you think Ray could have gotten away with his crime if he committed it today?

16. As Ray flees Canada for Europe, his desperation becomes acute and he begins to make mistakes that leave him exposed. Why was he was able to remain on the run for as long as he did? Think about his two critical errors in London as he entered Heathrow Airport to board a flight to Brussels. Considering his meticulousness at other points while in hiding, why did Ray try to walk through customs with two slightly different passports and a loaded gun in his pocket?

17. Shortly after Ray pled guilty to killing King and was sent to prison, he began to recant his involvement in the assassination and asked to be put on trial. And in the late 1990s, members of King’s family—notably his son Dexter and his wife Coretta—came out publicly to urge that Ray have his day in court. Should Ray been given a trial?

18. “Throughout James Earl Ray’s life, the despair was panoramic. The family suffered from exactly the sort of bleak, multigenerational poverty that King’s Poor People’s Campaign was designed to address.” Consider this paradox that the author highlights. What led Ray to his life of crime? If King’s efforts had made a difference in the life of someone like Ray, would Ray have taken another path in life?

19. What would have happened if Ray himself was murdered, much like John F. Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was killed by Jack Ruby? What benefits, if any, have come from Ray’s remaining alive (until 1998) and speaking out? If Ray had died in the act of killing King, would the collective reaction of the country—riots, unrest—have been the same?

21. There are many labels that have been applied to James Earl Ray, among them: insane, criminal, racist, loner, oddball. How would you characterize him?

22. What do you believe would have happened to the civil rights movement had King lived? Would anything be different today?

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Hellhound on His Trail 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 109 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This guy can write! Just finished Hellhound and my verdict is that Sides has produced a masterpiece. Sides tracks a killer and his victim in the days, weeks, and months before the murder in a way that is compelling in a simple, understated way. Had this book been written about two men we had never heard of, it would have been a fantastic read. But the narrative tracks two men we thought we knew and presents them as flesh and blood human with weaknesses, pathologies, and incredibly interesting lives. One of the reviewers complained that both men are presnted as equals-- this is not true. Instead, MLK is portrayed as the human being that he was who drank too much, was a terrible womanizer, and was filled with self-doubts. Imagine that: a human who is actually presented as a mortal man! Ray, is presnted as a deeply disturbed, racist career criminal-- this is hardly a positive presentation. The writing style is this book's best quality; it's very hard to put down and the reader will devour it in large chuncks!
iluvvideo More than 1 year ago
Ask most people "Who is Eric Starvo Galt?" and you will receive a not unexpected blank look. But mention James Earl Ray and you will receive a much different reaction. This book chronicles the interwoven lives of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and James Earl Ray during the few months prior to Dr. King's assassination, through the heinous act itself, until Ray is finally hunted down and brought to justice. I have to commend the author for neither deifying Dr. King; nor stereotyping Mr. Ray. Chapters alternate throughout the book, telling the different stories as they happened. I thought the story was even handed and fair throughout. Well researched and documented, even though I am aware of what transpired, I still found myself turning the pages as if this was a thrilling novel. My feelings are best summed up by the following exchange between Andrew Young and Dexter King, Dr. King's seven year old son."Uncle Andy, this man didn't know our Daddy, did he?" speaking of King's killer. "Why do you say that?" Young asked. "Because if he had, he wouldn't have shot him. He was just an ignorant man who didn't know any better." Out of the mouth of babes... A fascinating inside look into one of America's darkest hours and the struggle to provide some measure of closure to an act that had the potential to turn America's racial struggle into a full blown civil war.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
History comes alive! If Hampton Sides next write is a phone book = I'm reading it! Whatever you think you know about the killer, this will add to that. I might add there is insight to MLK too, and along with some of the political people of the times that we all have read thousands of words and seen films and such about, this will add to that as well. Wonderfully researched and then written in a manner that is equally readable, you forget you are reading history, it's done in the manner of any of the best thrillers ever composed. Utterly spell binding!
foof2you on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A great account of James Earl Ray and what he did prior to and after the assassination of Martin Luther King. I learned a lot that I had not known about the assassination. Hampton Sides did an excellent job researching and documenting, he also does a great job of telling the story. The narrative makes the story easier to read then a regular history with just the facts.
CarolynSchroeder on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Like others have pointed out, this book filled the serious gap in my knowledge of history, about one of the world's most important civil rights leaders. In addition, I learned a lot about the government/politicians of the time, the unrest in the United States (both racially and Vietnam War related), the genesis and effectiveness of the FBI during the search for King's assassin. Sides is simply a great writer, I will read anything the guy writes, because I learn and I'm given facts from both (or often more than two) sides of an equation, allowing me to make my own decisions on things. In some ways, he re-writes history because he finds and writes about very important facts that simply are unknown to the average U.S. citizen. I realize how bias textbook history is. I think he is one of the best, if not the best, living non fiction writer. In some ways, he reminds me (here) of Capote's In Cold Blood. Although I know going in, I'm supposed to hate James Earl Ray, there is just enough information where I just did not. On the flipside, I thought going in King would be the flawlessly revered saint he is often made out to be. Not so. He was a real man, very emotionally fragile in fact, but he had an absolute gift for preaching, and being, peace and non-violent brotherhood and love amongst all colors of human beings. The author dug very deeply in to these events and uncovered a weath of information. All of this is done in such a way that this was such an engaging read, I truly could not put the book down. My only small complaint, which Sides does so much to be annoying, is that crescendo towards the end of a chapter, then whap, he switches gears to another topic, so the reader is left at a cliff many times. It was someone toned down from Ghost Soldiers, so better, but egads, it happens a lot. But a small complaint and I recommend this book very highly to anyone caring to learn about a very important piece of American history.
nbmars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In Hellhound on His Trail, Hampton Sides has written a history book that reads like a suspense/thriller novel. His story is the assassination of Martin Luther King by James Earl Ray. More than four decades after the event, Sides brings to life the characters involved and the era in which it occurred. He meticulously researched many of the minutia known about both the assassin and his victim during the period immediately preceding the killing and the three months thereafter, the time it took the FBI and numerous other law enforcement agencies to locate and arrest the killer. James Earl Ray was a loner, a loser, and an extreme racist who had spent much of his adult life in prison. He was also remarkably resourceful, streetwise, and canny. Moreover, he seemed preternaturally inconspicuous and unobtrusive. The narrative begins in spring of 1967 with Prisoner #00416-J (as he was then characterized) serving a term for armed robbery in the Missouri State Penitentiary at Jefferson City, a maximum-security facility. He accumulated some cash through trading in drugs and amphetamines, which were plentiful in the prison. He escaped by hiding scrunched up under and among some freshly baked loaves of bread that the prison bakery had sent out for delivery to the ostensibly trustworthy prisoners working outside the prison walls. He was resourceful enough to escape to Mexico without leaving a trace. He returned to the United States in November 1967, taking a large cache of marijuana, assumed the alias of Eric S. Galt, and blended into an underworld of cheap hotel and rooming houses. He was someone no one ever noticed. Martin Luther King was internationally famous for his work in breaking down the legal barriers of Jim Crow legislation in the South through non-violent protest. King had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and had led a protest march to Washington where he had deliver his ¿I have a dream¿ speech, a paean to racial justice. But by late autumn 1967, his career was decidedly on a downward trend. Black leaders impatient with the slow pace of reform, like Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, and H. Rap Brown, had captured the imagination of many disaffected black citizens, and had incited numerous urban riots. Moreover King¿s well-defined goal of abolishing discriminatory legislation and government regulation had been achieved, at least theoretically. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had been enacted, negating most of Jim Crow legislation through federal preemption.With the passage of these laws, King then turned his energy to ameliorating the lot of the poor of all races, and not just that of poor blacks. That decision did not sit well with all his entourage. Nevertheless, King turned toward organizing another march on Washington to be called the Poor People¿s Campaign, this one with the laudable goal of eradicating poverty, but with little idea of how that could be accomplished and with no specific proposals toward achieving the goal. By this time, King was considered to be a thorn in the side of President Lyndon Johnson, but was hated by the Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover thought King was a communist, and was particularly concerned about King¿s proposed mass gathering of poor people in a tent city in the Capitol. The FBI conducted a campaign of spying on King. Although it uncovered some of King¿s sexual escapades and leaked them to the press (not to mention, his wife Coretta), nothing seemed to come of the disclosures, which the press self-censored. It was clearly a different era in journalism. On February 1, 1968, a horrible accident causing the grizzly death of two black men working as garbage collectors in Memphis, Tennessee set in motion a chain of events that would culminate in King¿s assassination. The two men were seeking shelter from some rain when the garbage truck on which they were working malfunctioned, caught both of them in its maw, pulle
rivkat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My husband enjoyed this book as a puzzle¿it gives a huge amount of detail about the activities of the man whose legal name was James Earl Ray before he shot King. The question was which one of those details was going to matter to catching him. But that wasn¿t enough to keep my attention through all the places Ray went and the laundry he did and the toiletries he bought, and how he swapped the first rifle he bought for the second but then had to get a box jury-rigged for him because the new rifle with the scope on it wouldn¿t fit into the original box. There was also some wider context¿what King was attempting with the Poor People¿s Campaign, how Hoover and Johnson reacted to the assassination, and so on¿but ultimately the story at the center didn¿t grip me. Ray seems to have been something of a sociopathic cipher, not just to the people he met, many of whom found him unmemorable, but also to Sides, despite the dramatic assassination and escapes he carried out.
sgtbigg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sides reconstructed the lives of King and James Earl Ray in the months prior to King's assassination and continues to follow Ray until his arrest and return to the U.S. Sides does an admirable job of following Ray's movements both before and after the shooting. The only thing I felt was lacking from the book was an explanation of Ray's motivation, Sides touches on several possibilities however I don't think anyone other then Ray knew his real motive. Highly recommended.I received this as an ARC from th publisher.
SherylHendrix on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very readable and interesting account of the movements of James Earl Ray before the fateful April 4th assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
iluvvideo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ask most people "Who is Eric Starvo Galt?" and you will receive a not unexpected blank look. But mention James Earl Ray and you will receive a much different reaction. This book chronicles the interwoven lives of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and James Earl Ray during the few months prior to Dr. King's assassination, through the heinous act itself, until Ray is finally hunted down and brought to justice. I have to commend the author for neither deifying Dr. King; nor stereotyping Mr. Ray. Chapters alternate throughout the book, telling the different stories as they happened. I thought the story was even handed and fair throughout. Well researched and documented, even though I am aware of what transpired, I still found myself turning the pages as if this was a thrilling novel. My feelings are best summed up by the following exchange between Andrew Young and Dexter King, Dr. King's seven year old son."Uncle Andy, this man didn't know our Daddy, did he?" speaking of King's killer. "Why do you say that?" Young asked. "Because if he had, he wouldn't have shot him. He was just an ignorant man who didn't know any better." Out of the mouth of babes... A fascinating inside look into one of America's darkest hours and the struggle to provide some measure of closure to an act that had the potential to turn America's racial struggle into a full blown civil war.
ThorneStaff on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A readable and clear picture of the movements that James Earl Ray made before the fateful April day when he pulled the trigger, killing Martin Luther King, Jr.
akblanchard on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which I picked up after I heard the author interviewed on NPR. It's the fascinating tale of an oddly forgettable man--James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King Jr. Ray used a number of aliases both before and after the crime, and in the narrative Sides refers to Ray by his name du jour, whether that's Eric Galt or Ramon Sneyd or any of his other pseudonyms. This technique is not as distracting as it sounds. If you like true crime or history, this book is definitely worth reading.
velopunk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fascinating book with alternating chapters on the life of James Earl Ray and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the months before and after King's murder and Ray's capture. Ray let himself be photographed after taking dance instructions in Los Angeles. Although he closed his eyes when the picture was snapped, this picture led to his identification and capture. He escaped from prison in Missouri in 1967 and then unbelieveably enough, in 1977 in Tennessee after he had been convicted of King's murder. The author found no evidence of a conspiracy although there was a belief that one existed.
kraaivrouw on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have always felt a strong connection to Dr. Martin Luther King. I was born and raised in Memphis (the same year as Hampton Sides) and vividly remember the annual marches there honoring Dr. King. My family has always been active in progressive politics - which requires commitment in the conservative Southeast. I lived in Atlanta for five years and my son and I made a point of making an annual trek to the King Center. It is a place of great beauty and poignancy - the remains of what was once Sweet Auburn decaying all around it like a bomb went off and everyone couldn't wait to forget.This is a wonderful book of popular history that manages to be a page-turner even though you already know the outcome. Sides provides a detailed almost moment-by-moment account of the stalking of Dr. King, of his assassination, and of the ultimately successful manhunt for his killer. It is ironic that Hoover's FBI was successful in tracking down James Earl Ray due in part to innovations introduced by J. Edgar Hoover who famously detested Dr. King; forensic innovations plus over 3,000 agents will net you a killer, especially if he was stupid enough to throw the gun away near the scene along with his laundry bearing unique laundry markers.This is a reminder of a sad and terrible time in our nation's history and of the tragedy of a man who rose to the occasion with grace and dignity only to be shot down in a senseless act of violence by a prison escapee with a $50 bounty on his head. We should never forget the sacrifices of those who came before us and who made it possible for us to have the opportunities we all share.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
D: Nathan! What do we do? Nat: Im thinking! Nick! Whats your suggestion?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It has allot of history that you might not have known about the incident but unfortunately no actual interviews with the assassin himself so some of it is speculation.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing read! Insightful.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
OldWahoo More than 1 year ago
Fast paced and well written account of the murder of MLK and its aftermath. Particularly absorbing is the story of Ray's flight from the scene and his efforts to escape the authorities.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Told (almost) in first person narrative, the story seen move by move through the eyes of James Earl Ray, the stalking, leading up to the assassination of MLK, his escape after and the police investigation.
PegT More than 1 year ago
A riveting account of Dr Martin Luther's shooting by James Earl Ray, with a historical account of the events leading up to it and the dragnet conducted by the FBI in locating and capturing Ray. In addition the author gives us a factual event documentary of Ray's escape again from prison. Tha examination of both Ray's and King's character and background makes for a trully excellent historical perspective. The book is excellent in examining and pain staking documenting all the various conspiracy theories as they relate to the murder and scholarly debunks all the myths from reality. The only thing we really don't learn is how Ray was able to accumulate money to conduct his odysssey.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
*turns to smoke when hes touched then reforms behind you* over here.