February 21, 2008
Albany-- Last month, people all over the United States celebrated the birth of a civil rights leader. In a little more than a month, we'll mark a sad anniversary, the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King Junior's assassination.
Some people still have questions about his death. Many people have conspiracy theories and one South Georgia civil rights leader says he knows for a fact who's behind it all.
"I have a dream today." Those are the words that still echo to this day. But that dream was deferred by a gunshot in Memphis. The date was April 4th 1968.
"That day I was in Clay County," said Reverend Charles Sherrod.
Sherrod felt the shot all the way here in South Georgia. "That was just..... distressful," said Sherrod.
He knew Martin Luther King Junior as more than a civil rights leader. "I got to know him as a person," said Sherrod. And he says he knows to this very day there's more to his murder.
"I wondered how many people were involved," said Sherrod. On that day in April at the Lorraine Motel, several people pointed to where the deadly gunshot came from. Reverend Jesse Jackson was one of them.
"We were telling the police, you guys are coming this way but the bullet came from that way. Don't come here. Go there," said Jackson.
The investigation led to the arrest of a man who the nation came to know as James Earl Ray. "I don't think he acted alone," said Sherrod.
Just like Sherrod, authorities at first thought the same thing. They looked for more and investigated the assassination as a possible conspiracy. But all evidence pointed to Ray including the rifle and the getaway car. Still, Ray launched his own conspiracy theories shortly after he confessed.
"Well first I didn't kill Dr. King," said Ray in a courtroom years ago.
Ray maintained until his death that he took the blame but a man by the name of Raul actually killed King. This is from an audio tape made a few months before Ray died in 1998 with what he says were instructions from Raul--"He told me he'd like for me to go to the movies somewhere, because he wanted to talk to these people privately."
Adding to this theory was a claim by a retired FBI employee in the late 90's. Donald Wilson claimed he found pieces of paper in Ray's car that had the name Raul written on them. For the next 30 years, he says that evidence was stored in his refrigerator. The FBI called that story a lie.
"There is no proof that Ray was with anyone else in Memphis," said John Campbell.
Another conspiracy theory came to light a few years before in 1993. The King case was re-opened after Memphis bar owner Lloyd Jowers came forward. Jowers ran Jim's Grill across from the Lorraine Motel and claimed another Memphis businessman, Frank Luberto, paid him $100,000 to contract a killer.
"He asked me to handle some money transactions, hire someone to assassinate Dr. Martin Luther King. He asked me if I knew someone and I told him I knew someone who could probably do it," said Jowers during a 1993 interview.
Jowers said that someone wasn't James Earl Ray. He named a Memphis police officer as the killer and said that he himself threw the murder rifle in the Mississippi River. A 7-month investigation found no evidence of this conspiracy. So who did it?
"The government," said Sherrod.
Reverend Sherrod says King was getting more radical with his approach to civil rights and people wanted him quieted. "So what happens when he comes to Memphis? There was a breakdown, an intentional breakdown. Hoover, Hoover, Hoover, Hoover," said Sherrod.
Shelby County Criminal Prosecutor John Campbell and a team of investigators spent four years re-examining evidence from the King murder but came up with nothing solid. Conspiracy theories continue. "You do have an underpinning, a kernel of truth that these things spring from. We know that J. Edgar Hoover was doing all types of illegal things to Dr. King. We know that. We also know that Bobby Kennedy approved it as the attorney general, approving illegal wire taps. It's not a stretch to say if they were doing that they were certainly capable of killing him," said Campbell.
Ironically, the same force that Sherrod feels is behind King's murder is the same force he thinks will shed light on the case. "Either the government, someone who's been in the government or somebody who is in the government that's willing to be a deepthroat," said Sherrod.
He says it will be repercussions for that truth though. We asked Reverend Sherrod, "Do you think you'll see what you call the truth come out in your lifetime?"
"I believe so. I believe so because there are only so many years they can keep information away from the public," said Sherrod.
Until that day, Sherrod will continue to rely on the good memories of a man who could preach to a crowd of thousands in the day but play a game of pool with an Albany friend in the evening.
"He could talk with kings and he could talk with people like me," said Sherrod. But people like him still have questions about how a King's dream ended early.
Members of the King family are also convinced that James Earl Ray was not the assassin. In fact, King's son Dexter met with Ray in prison in 1997. He shook his hand and said he believed he was innocent.