This is a hard one to write, inasmuch as I have to scold what may be black America's first family: the survivors of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
But it has to be said, so here goes. Dexter King, son of Martin Luther King Jr., is a sap. There's simply no other word for it. And just because Dexter is Dr. King's son doesn't make him any less of a sap. The truth is, Dexter's dad had some sappy moments of his own.
Take, for example, the elder King's well-known statement during the civil rights struggle in which he suggested to white racists that they could beat, bludgeon, shoot, hang and bomb black folks, who would be forgiving of all these atrocities. King then delivered the ultimate in sappy remarks when he said, "If blood must flow, let it be our blood."
Quintessential sappiness, but Martin Luther King was not alone. Nor is his son. Each of us struggles daily in a never-ending war between our brilliant selves and our sappy selves. For most of us, the war is private. Dexter King chose to go public with his.
It happened Thursday, March 27. King traveled to a prison hospital in Nashville, Tenn., where the man who was convicted of killing his father 29 years ago is dying of a liver illness. Dexter King and James Earl Ray met before television cameras and had a conversation that, according to news reports, went something like this:
Dexter King: Did you kill my father?
James Earl Ray: No, no. I didn't.
Dexter King: Well, as awkward as this may seem, I want you to know that I believe you and my family believes you, and we are going to do everything in our power to try and make sure that justice will prevail.
Hold the phone there, a sec, Dex. While losing your dad must have been a traumatizing experience, surely you realize Martin Luther King Jr. belonged to the entire nation. There are those of us who felt shock, grief and pain that terrible April 4 night in 1968 when we heard the news that Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot and killed in Memphis. We felt the anguish and the rage.
There may be some of us who are not so willing to accept James Earl Ray's denial without further questioning. Ray's simple answer "No, no. I didn't," doesn't begin to tell what he knows about the King assassination. You should have been less forgiving and more inquisitive, Dex, and gone after Ray thusly:
Well, if you didn't do it, who the hell did? I know you know, so tell me, you worthless scamboogah. Denying being the actual shooter doesn't mean you weren't involved.
How did you get to London after the shooting, where you were found two months later? Who gave you the financial and logistical help necessary to pull your escape off? And if you're innocent, why did you light out like a cat in a pit bull pound?
The House Committee on Assassinations found in 1978 that you stalked my father for over a year? Why? How did you know what city he'd be in and when? How'd you know he'd be in Memphis? And how did you know he had switched accommodations from the Riverfront Holiday Inn to the Lorraine Motel?
Ray's denial just inspires a wealth of other questions. He is, if not the assassin of Martin Luther King Jr., at least an accessory to his death. How did this small-timer escape from prison in 1967 and then find the means to stalk King for a year? Escaped convicts do this on a regular basis, do they? Some reports say Ray shot King to collect a $50,000 contract on the civil rights leader's head. If so, why does he wait a year? Why doesn't he pop King after one month, or one week for that matter? It's only logical to assume he could have used the money sooner as opposed to later.
Conspiracy buffs would have us believe that Ray is totally innocent, that he had nothing to do with the crime. Conservative talk show host and author Tony Brown, in his book "Black Lies, White Lies," suggests that Army intelligence units were in Memphis on April 4, 1968, conducting surveillance on King. But this was the late '60s. Government agencies were spying on everybody. Watching somebody and actually killing them are worlds apart.
No, the man who knows the most about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is lying in a prison hospital in Nashville, only months away from dying. It's time he told the full truth about what he knows. And he knows more than he's told.
Pub Date: 4/05/97