Co-authored by Lamar Waldron
Sunday, April 4, 2010 marked the forty-second anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. The recent spate of violence and threats directed at members of Congress evoke all too well the tumult of the 1960s. Seeing a hero of the Civil Rights movement like Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) facing an angry gantlet of protestors -- some using the N-word -- as he left the Capitol brought back memories of similar scenes from the 1960s, when Rep. Lewis worked with Martin Luther King.
The resurgence in violent acts and rhetoric was building even before the surge that accompanied passage of health care reform. This not only includes white supremacist shootings of several police officers over the past year, but arrests in ten different states for serious plots to assassinate Obama, most by white supremacists.
Some of the large corporations and mainstream politicians stoking the anger at President Obama may not realize how quickly such an atmosphere of hate can get beyond their control. For them, it's just a matter of money and power, by making sure populist anger that should be directed at them is instead diverted to President Obama and others.
It's been said that those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it. But thanks to Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), Representative John Lewis, and others, Americans have a rare chance to finally bring the hidden history of Martin Luther King's assassination to light.
The Boston Globe reported that Sen. Kerry is getting ready to introduce a Martin Luther King Records Act, which would finally preserve and declassify all the records about Dr. King's assassination. The Globe said that Rep. John Lewis would introduce the new King Records Act in the House.
While many FBI files about Dr. King's murder have been released to the public -- often pried out of the Bureau by Freedom of Information lawsuits -- many of the most important files remain unreleased. That's why several weeks ago, Sen. Kerry wrote a letter to the head of the National Archives, saying he wants to release to the public "all records related to the...death of Dr. King, including any investigations or inquiries into his assassination by federal, state, or local agencies."
Unsolved Civil Rights crimes have been in the spotlight in recent years, with cases reopened due to the dogged efforts of reporters like Mississippi's Jerry Mitchell, who helped to put the assassin of Medgar Evers behind bars. But many people don't realize that Dr. King's assassination is another of those unsolved civil rights crimes.
In 1979, a Congressional investigation headed by Rep. Louis Stokes "concluded that there was a likelihood of conspiracy in the assassination of Dr. King" and that "the expectation of financial gain was [James Earl] Ray's primary motivation." Yet the Congressional committee wasn't able to figure out who was putting up the money that motivated Ray, in part because of material withheld from the committee by the FBI and other agencies. Some of those files withheld from Congress are available now online, through private organizations like the Mary Ferrell Foundation (maryferrell.org), though others have never been released.
One example is the case of Joseph Milteer, a white supremacist from the tiny south Georgia town of Quitman, who was affiliated with an unusually wide range of racists and racist groups, ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to the more respectable White Citizens Councils. Milteer also worked with violent white supremacist J. B. Stoner, who eventually became James Earl Ray's lawyer.
Rep. Stokes's committee investigated not only Dr. King's murder, but also that of President Kennedy, and they were given information tying Milteer to the assassination of JFK. That's because Milteer was recorded on Miami Police informant tape on November 9, 1963 -- thirteen days before JFK was killed -- describing "a plan to assassinate the President with a high-powered rifle from a tall building" and saying that authorities 'will pick up somebody within hours afterwards." Milteer also talked on that tape about an associate's unsuccessful plot to assassinate King.
The FBI didn't give Rep. Stokes's committee any information about any investigation they did in 1968 about Milteer and Dr. King's assassination. Even though the FBI was concerned about Milteer as late as 1967, there is no indication in released FBI files that the Bureau made even a routine inquiry as to where Milteer was when Dr. King was shot, something the FBI did for racists far less notorious than Milteer. It's a shame the FBI (apparently) didn't try to find out, because after Milteer's death, a Miami reporter found in his burned out house a letter indicating that Milteer was in Atlanta in the unusual area where James Earl Ray was abandoning his getaway car on the day after Dr. King was killed.
Milteer's presence in that area of Atlanta that day -- over 200 miles from Milteer's Quitman home -- helps to explain several things that have puzzled investigators for decades. After Dr. King was shot in Memphis, James Earl Ray fled to Canada. But first, while Ray was the most wanted man in America, he took an unusual 450-mile detour south, to Atlanta, where Ray had been living in a small rooming house. Then, when Ray arrived in Atlanta, he parked almost in the shadow from Georgia's heavily-guarded State Capitol building.
More bizarre, Ray left his much sought-after getaway car just nine short blocks from Dr. King's office and church, but over three miles from Ray's Atlanta rooming house, where he was headed. Despite intense efforts, the FBI and Atlanta police were never able to find any cab or bus driver who took Ray to his rooming house.
New information that we detail in our recently updated book Legacy of Secrecy shows that Ray had called one of Milteer's three Atlanta business partners shortly before abandoning his car. We also show how Milteer and his racist partners had put up most or all of the money for the hit contract on Dr. King, and likely aided Ray's improbable two month escape, in which Ray went from Atlanta to Canada, to England, then to Portugal, and finally back to England (where Ray was arrested).
As we noted earlier, Rep. Stokes's Congressional committee was given information about Milteer and JFK's 1963 assassination, but nothing about Milteer and Dr. King's 1968 murder. In March 2010, author Stuart Wexler was told in writing that the FBI and National Archives can't locate the FBI's Atlanta Field Office File for Milteer. Even worse, the FBI wrote Wexler that they had routinely destroyed the Atlanta Field Office file for another racist who traveled in the same circles as Milteer -- even though other FBI files show this racist had boasted of knowing James Earl Ray, provided information to an FBI informant about King's assassination, and was himself investigated for a 1963 plot against King.
The FBI actually has a file destruction schedule that allows them to destroy important material about King's assassination. That's one reason the King Records Act is needed so badly, to prevent the further destruction of important files, especially those that were withheld from Congress or that have never been released.
Other important King assassination files withheld from Rep. Stokes's committee related to Louisiana godfather Carlos Marcello. In 2000, the Justice Department released a report in which they were supposed to investigate claims arising out of the 1998 civil suit victory of the King family, concerning a conspiracy that prominently involved Carlos Marcello. However, the Justice Department report barely mentioned Marcello, and ignored material in their own files linking Marcello to King's murder.
According to one 1968 Justice Department memo -- withheld from Rep. Stokes's committee, but since released and quoted in Legacy of Secrecy for the first time -- information from a reporter's sources that included a "well placed protégé of Carlos Marcello" said that the Mafia had "agreed to 'broker' or arrange the assassination [of Dr. King] for an amount somewhat in excess of three hundred thousand dollars after they were contacted by" a group "of wealthy segregationists." The group was linked to "the KKK and White Citizen's Councils. Quitman...was said" to be a possible base of their operation.
Congressional investigators did turn up information indicating that in the months before Dr. King's murder, James Earl Ray had been a low-level heroin courier for Marcello's drug network. But files not yet released include those identifying Ray's two main criminal contacts in New Orleans, and several people connected to Marcello's organization who were interviewed by the FBI about Dr. King's assassination.
In addition, the 2000 Justice Department report on King's assassination -- which was supposed to look at Marcello's possible role -- failed to mention the fact that the FBI had in its files since 1986 Marcello's clear confession to JFK's assassination. (One would think that a godfather's confession to one assassination might at least rate a mention in a report about his role in another.) We found the uncensored files in the National Archives in 2006, and they also reveal that the FBI secretly recorded "hundreds of hours" of secret audio tape of Marcello in 1985 and 1986, when Marcello was in federal prison. The FBI's undercover operation against Marcello was code-named CAMTEX. Marcello often spoke to a trusted associate from New Orleans while he was secretly being recorded, so those CAMTEX tapes could have information about Ray's New Orleans contacts. But those tapes and transcripts have never been released.
At least some of those "hundreds of hours" of secret Marcello tapes should be released under the 1992 JFK Assassination Records Act, since on the tapes, Marcello rails against the John and Robert Kennedy, and talks about meeting Lee Oswald and Jack Ruby.
News reports say that Senator Kerry is modeling the new King Records Act on the 1992 JFK Act. The JFK Act did result in the release of over four million pages of files, including the (very incomplete) Marcello CAMTEX files mentioned above. But the King Act needs to avoid several problems that plagued the JFK Act.
First is that fact that according to NBC News, "millions" of pages of JFK assassination files remain unreleased, despite the law requiring their release. A report by OMB Watch quoted an official who helped to implement the JFK Act as saying that "well over one million CIA records" pertaining to JFK's assassination were not released.
Even worse, the Final Report of the Review Board created by the 1992 JFK Act said that the Secret Service admitted destroying important JFK assassination files in 1995, at a time when the law said they were supposed to be preserved and released. Some of the files destroyed by the Secret Service covered the time in November 1963 when Milteer's taped remarks first became known to the Secret Service and FBI.
In addition, despite the Obama administration's attempts at more open government, the CIA continues to fight a lawsuit seeking records that should have been released under the 1992 JFK Act, as detailed in an October 17, 2009 New York Times article. Those files -- and perhaps a million more -- are to remain secret until 2017 or even beyond.
A Congressional hearing in the House of Representatives could help to ensure that those problems are not repeated with the new King Act. We believe that in the long run, releasing all the files about the assassinations of Dr. King and JFK will not only be good for America, but also for the FBI, CIA, Justice Department, Secret Service, and other agencies. Until all the files are released, many Americans will continue to view those agencies with suspicion.
The new King Act can insure the privacy of innocent individuals, while going after the files about those who killed Dr. King. The tapes generated by J. Edgar Hoover's vendetta against Dr. King -- part of a huge domestic surveillance network against progressives later exposed by Senator Frank Church -- are of no value in documenting those who killed Dr. King.
The best way to ensure quick passage of the King Act then is for it to have as many co-sponsors as possible. You can help by asking your own Senators and Representative to co-sponsor the legislation. To find out how to contact your members of Congress, you can go do legacyofsecrecy.com, and click the "Tell Congress" link. A short, polite email or phone call--asking them to co-sponsor the Martin Luther King Records Act when Sen. Kerry introduces it in the Senate and Rep. Lewis introduces it in the House--would be most effective.
This is a rare opportunity for Americans to actually to do something about needless government secrecy. The 1992 JFK Act was passed unanimously by both houses of Congress, and while that level of cooperation seems unimaginable today, it' s hard to think of any legitimate reason why a member of Congress wouldn't want to co-sponsor the new King Act.
Thom Hartmann and Lamar Waldron have researched the Kennedy and King assassinations for twenty years, and their work has been the subject of two Discovery Channel specials produced by NBC News. Hartmann was recently named America's leading progressive radio host, while Waldron was called "the ultimate JFK historian" by Variety. More information about their latest book, the updated trade paperback of Legacy of Secrecy, is available at www.legacyofsecrecy.com.