January 17, 2022 Editor

Words that Got Martin Luther King, Jr. Shot

The pronouncements that got Martin Luther King, Jr. killed are probably not those that appear on inspirational posters today.

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By Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 17, 2022

photo above: Dick DeMarsico from Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

WN: Saturday, January 15, 2022, was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday; and this year Monday, January 17, 2022 was Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the States (always the third Monday of January.) In memory of him, Magazine published what you will find below.

He was murdered a year to the day after the speech he made at Riverside Church in New York,  April 4, 1967. As part of that memorable speech you may click on in the last two quotes, he said:

My third reason [for speaking up about the Vietnam War] moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettoes of the North over the last three years—especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked—and rightly so—what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today—my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent. (Second italics added.)

King’s murder was shown in a 1999 civil court case to have been a conspiracy of the United States Government. At the time, only one major newspaper in America carried the story. Please see: Memphis  jury  finds  that  a  conspiracy  led  to  Martin  Luther  King Jr.’s  assassination, by Helen Halyard, 17 December 1999.

Please see also An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King, by William F. Pepper.

We read in the 1999 article:

Attorney William  Pepper, former lawyer of James Earl Ray, who  was  sentenced to  prison as the lone gunman in the King murder, has investigated the circumstances behind  the assassination for the past 20 years. In 1995 he published the book Orders to Kill,  which alleges [–as does An Act of State] involvement by the Mafia, the FBI, the CIA and  the  military in the assassination.

In the course of the trial 70 witnesses were presented by the defense.  Among them were members of King’s  family; the brother of James Earl Ray; Walter Fauntroy, formerly a member of the House Select Committee on  Assassinations; and New York-based attorney and media expert William  Schapp.

Much of  the testimony focused on the extent of operations carried out by the FBI against King and those involved in civil rights struggles. On August 25, 1967, FBI chief J.  Edgar  Hoover1 approved a major counterintelligence program,  Cointelpro, to disrupt and discredit left-wing organizations  civil rights demonstrators and anti-war protesters.  Hoover directed operations against King in an effort to discredit his leadership and break up the movement.

Convinced that King was a communist, Hoover described him as “the most dangerous man in America, and a  moral degenerate,” and was obsessed with following King’s activities. Dozens of internal FBI memoranda  document the surveillance and harassment of King. In one incident King’s alleged “sexual escapades” were  used in an attempt to blackmail him.  Shortly before the assassination Hoover distributed an internal memo to  the FBI calling for King’s “removal from the national scene.”

At the trial [Walter  Fauntroy, formerly a member of the House  Select Committee on Assassinations] testified that while he believed Ray was the  shooter, he felt that Ray did not act alone.

Fauntroy expressed dissatisfaction with the investigation carried out by the House Select Committee, noting  that it was denied access to FBI files on the King murder and was unaware that US Army operatives had King  under surveillance at the time of his death.

Historian L. B. Namier once said that “the crowning attainment of historical study” is to achieve “an intuitive sense of how things do not happen.” (L.B. Namier, “History,” in Fritz Stern, ed.: The Varieties of History: From Voltaire to the Present 2nd ed. Edition (New York, 1973, p. 375.)

Fauntroy [nonetheless] expressed dissatisfaction with the investigation carried out by the House Select Committee . . .

The above story is not one such instance. But there are nonetheless competing narratives, which may be seen in the Wikipedia article on Martin Luther King Jr.

MLK excerpts:

The Handwriting on the Wall

We have come here
because we share a common concern
for the moral health of our nation.
We have come because our eyes
have seen through the superficial
glory and glitter of our society
and observed the coming of judgment.
Like the prophet of old, we have read the handwriting on the wall.
We have seen our nation weighed in the balance of history
and found wanting…

Cowardice asks the question, is it safe;
expediency asks the question, is it politic;
vanity asks the question, is it popular;
but conscience asks the question, is it right?

And on some positions, it is necessary
for the moral individual to take a stand
that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular;
but he must do it because it is right.

Source: Martin Luther King Jr., “The Three Evils of Society,” speech at the National Conference on New Politics in Chicago, August 31, 1967.

Hard Work, Not Complacency

It may well be that we will have to repent
in this generation
not merely for the vitriolic words
and the violent actions of the bad people,
but for the appalling silence
and indifference of the good people
who sit around and say wait on time…

Social progress never rolls in
on the wheels of inevitability.
It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work
of dedicated individuals.
And without this hard work
time itself becomes an ally
of the primitive forces of social stagnation.

And so we must help time. We must realize
that the time is always right
to do right.

Source: Martin Luther King Jr., “The Other America,” speech at Stanford University, April 14, 1967.

Why I Oppose War

I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why
I am speaking against the war.
Could it be that they do not know
that the Good News was meant for all men –
for communist and capitalist,
for their children and ours,
for black and for white,
for revolutionary and conservative?
Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the one
who loved his enemies so fully
that he died for them?…

I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men
the calling to be a son of the living God.
Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed
is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood….

We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless,
for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy,
for no document from human hands
can make these humans any less our brothers.

Source: Martin Luther King Jr., “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” speech at Riverside Church in New York City, April 4, 1967.

Now Is the Time

We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today.
We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.

In this unfolding conundrum of life and history
there is such a thing as being too late….
There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records
our vigilance or our neglect….

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves
to the long and bitter – but beautiful – struggle for a new world.
This is the calling of the sons of God,
and our brothers wait eagerly for our response.

Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them
the struggle is too hard?
Will our message be that the forces of American life
militate against their arrival as full men,
and we send our deepest regrets?
Or will there be another message,
of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings,
of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost?

Source: Martin Luther King Jr., “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” speech at Riverside Church in New York City, April 4, 1967.

Please click on: Words that Got Martin Luther King, Jr. Shot

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  1. We read in the Wikipedia article:

    In 1956, several years before he targeted King, Hoover had a public showdown with T. R. M. Howard, a civil rights leader from Mound Bayou, Mississippi. During a national speaking tour, Howard had criticized the FBI’s failure to investigate thoroughly the racially motivated murders of George W. Lee, Lamar Smith, and Emmett Till. Hoover wrote an open letter to the press singling out these statements as “irresponsible.”[64]

    In the 1960s, Hoover’s FBI monitored John Lennon, Malcolm X, and Muhammad Ali.[65] The COINTELPRO tactics were later extended to organizations such as the Nation of Islam, Black Panther Party, Martin Luther King Jr.‘s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and others. Hoover’s moves against people who maintained contacts with subversive elements, some of whom were members of the civil rights movement, also led to accusations of trying to undermine their reputations.[66]

    The treatment of Martin Luther King Jr. and actress Jean Seberg are two examples: Jacqueline Kennedy recalled that Hoover told President John F. Kennedy that King had tried to arrange a sex party while in the capital for the March on Washington and that Hoover told Robert F. Kennedy that King had made derogatory comments during the President’s funeral.[67] Under Hoover’s leadership, the FBI sent an anonymous blackmail letter to King in 1964, urging him to commit suicide.[68][]


Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.