Monday, 31 May 2010 20:57

Roads to Memphis (PBS)

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Any serious student of the King case should ignore both this program and the book by Hampton Sides. Instead, read The 13th Juror, concludes Jim DiEugenio.


A bit more than two years ago, the Public Broadcasting System's series The American Experience helped bring us Robert Stone's cover – up documentary on the assassination of President Kennedy entitled Oswald's Ghost. This was a skillfully done program that slickly recycled the Warren Commission verdict on the JFK case. While at the same time, the director got out a not so subliminal message: those who publicly doubted that verdict were actually undermining America. In my review of that program (which you can read here), I wrote that one of the more disturbing things about Oswald's Ghost was that there was no discussion of the new evidence that the Assassination Records Review Board had declassified ten years previous. In fact, Stone seemed to have an aversion to any discussion of either the House Select Committee on Assassination's inquiry or the ARRB's declassification process. Because he failed to mention either in his film. The other disturbing aspect of Oswald's Ghost was that Stone gave much more screen time to the Warren Commission advocates than he did its critics. Consequently, there was no debate on the evidence. The film essentially recycled the Commission's caricature of Lee Harvey Oswald through the likes of prominent talking heads like Priscilla Johnson, Edward Epstein, Hugh Aynesworth and the late Norman Mailer.

PBS and The American Experience are at it again. In May of this year, they did a historical whitewash on another major assassination of the sixties. This time it was the Martin Luther King case. The pretext for this disservice is the publication of a book by Hampton Sides called Hellhound on his Trail. After watching this documentary, Roads to Memphis, culled from his book, there is no need for anyone to read that volume. From the film, Mr. Sides has essentially taken his cue from William Bradford Huie's earlier disinformation volume He Slew the Dreamer, which was originally published in 1970. This, of course, was right after alleged assassin James Earl Ray had been railroaded by his second lawyer Percy Foreman – with the help of Huie. Foreman had essentially told Ray that he would sabotage his case, and he would probably die in the electric chair, unless he pleaded guilty. This is something that his first legal team advised him not to do. Since they did not think that the state had anywhere near a good case against him. In fact, based on the evidence Arthur Hanes and his son had developed, the state offered a plea bargain with which Ray would have been out in ten years. Hanes advised Ray to decline, since he thought he could do better at trial. (See the book, The 13th Juror, p. 208)

Ray made a terrible error when he decided to dismiss the Hanes team for the celebrity attorney Percy Foreman. All one needs to know about Foreman's defense of Ray is this: after telling Ray he would hire a Memphis lawyer to do the pre – trial work, Foreman then arranged with Judge Preston Battle to get Ray a public defender. (The Assassinations, edited by James DiEugenio and Lisa Pease, p. 464) Then, even though Hanes offered Foreman the use of his case files, Foreman looked at them for all of ten minutes. And he never copied or used them. (ibid, p. 465) Although Foreman told Ray he would beat the rap, Foreman never planned on going to trial. (ibid, p. 464) Once he had the public defender in tow, he told him to begin negotiations with the DA's office. (ibid,p. 464) The capper is this: Ray has stated that Foreman never even asked him "if he had fired the fatal shot at King or if he had been part of a conspiracy." (ibid, p. 465)

And this is where Huie comes in. Huie negotiated a deal with Foreman in which the attorney would share in all funds "accrued to Huie by sale of all rights to Ray's story, including motion picture sales." Foreman made about a hundred grand for his non – defense of Ray. (ibid) From his cooperation with the sabotaging Foreman, Huie then wrote his "Ray did it" tome. But that was not enough for the wealthy writer. For in 1977, during the initial phases of the HSCA, Huie got in contact with a representative of Ray named Jack Kershaw. They met at Thomas Nelson Publishing Company in Nashville. Huie relayed an offer to Ray through Kershaw. He said that if Ray would state in public that he had killed King, he would give him a check for $25, 0000. Kershaw then asked what good the money would do Ray if he was in prison. Huie replied he would also get him a pardon. Ray's reply to Huie tells us a lot about both Huie and Ray's case. When Kershaw informed him of the offer, Ray said he wanted no part of it. (The 13th Juror, p. 393)

All one needs to know about Roads to Memphis is this: it deals with all the above events in three end titles at the finish of the program. They say that Ray pleaded guilty, that he then tried to change his plea, and that he died in jail in 1998. After covering up all I described above about what Huie and Foreman did – and more – the show essentially follows the paradigm that Huie established in his book: Ray was a piece of southern racist white trash. He had stalked King through the south, and then killed him by himself in Memphis on April 4, 1968. The guilty Ray then tried to escape through both Canada and England. But he was caught through an FBI manhunt using an alias at Heathrow Airport. It's all cut and dried. What Huie did is similar to what the likes of Priscilla Johnson and others have done in the JFK field. Huie caricatured Ray, cut him off from any contacts except his brothers, supplied a motive which really was not there, and then concealed the actual circumstances of the crime. That is, he shoved all that rather interesting evidence under the rug. You know, the evidence that Arthur Hanes was set to go to trial on.

And that is what Roads to Memphis does: it shoves the evidence under the rug. Except this program is even worse than Stone's in its choice of talking heads. After beginning with a clip of Ray's arrival in Memphis after being extradited from England, the first onscreen commentator is none other than Mr. CBS cover up himself, Dan Rather. Director Stephen Ives then tries to top himself. For the third talking head is the now disgraced plagiarist Gerald Posner. The fifth talking head is the Rev. Billy Kyles. Kyles was a Memphis pastor and a friend of King's. At the 1999 civil trial of Loyd Jowers, Kyles was exposed to some rather strong cross examination and testimony as to some of his weird actions in Memphis on the eve of King's assassination. (See these in section 2 of my 13th Juror review by clicking here.) So, with this source material, this attitude toward the evidence, and these commentators, the result was preordained: Huie is recycled. We get Ray the southern trash racist who stalked King.

Let's go over some of the things that Hampton Sides uses to try and incriminate Ray. For instance, he says that when Ray went through Atlanta in March of 1968 he happened to leave an Atlanta map behind. On the map, places like King's office and home were marked. (He leaves out the fact that there were seven other maps found. Maps of places like California and Mexico. Only the Atlanta map was marked.) Of course, this story originated with William Bradford Huie. (Harold Weisberg, Martin Luther King: The Assassination, p. 279) Yet as Weisberg notes, this map was not found before, but after the fact. It was found by the FBI in the room Ray rented after King's murder. (ibid) Even though the landlord, Billy Gardner, did find a note in the room at the time Ray left. (Weisberg, p. 190)

Huie also wrote that Ray's fingerprints were on the Atlanta map. Yet, as Weisberg notes, this is not accurate. Ray's prints were found on a map of Mexico. (ibid) Further, if Ray had been to Atlanta to monitor these locations, why would he need to mark them on a map? Why didn't he just write down their addresses and then dispose of the notepad?(ibid, p. 280)

Mr. Sides also adds that, while in California, Ray asked two friends to register to vote for George Wallace in return for a ride to New Orleans. As Weisberg notes, this story – which originated with Charles Stein and his sister – surfaced after much contrary evidence, showing Ray was not a racist, appeared in the newspapers. Stein also tried to convey the impression that many people at Wallace headquarters knew Ray. (ibid, p. 360) But when Weisberg followed up on this he found out that Wallace's California campaign coordinator stated that none of his staff knew Ray. And that a check of their files shows no one even associated with him. (ibid) In fact, Ray did not even take the brief moment required to apply his name, or any of his aliases, to any Wallace petition! (ibid) In truth, this anti – black motive was not even used by local DA Phil Canale at the mini – trial that Foreman agreed to. (ibid) And Stein was not called by the state as a witness. (ibid, p. 188) Further, there is really no serious indication to show that Ray was ever politically engaged, involved, or interested. Finally, no credible black witness who ever associated with Ray has ever stepped forward to say he was prejudiced.

Yet, in the face of all the above, the program uses dramatizations showing Ray in a rented room watching Wallace rant on TV sets. It then juxtaposes these "broadcasts" with some of King's speeches at the time. The unsubtle message being that Ray was admiring and agreeing with the former, and then angered and disturbed by the latter. And somehow, this drove him to murder. As Weisberg writes, this is all specious. But even if it were true, wouldn't it describe literally hundreds of thousands of Americans at the time?

The other technique used to ascribe a motive to Ray is the old Posnerian standby, which he also uses in the Kennedy case. Namely that Ray was such a loser with so little self – esteem that he killed King to add meaning to his existence. Presumably he would now go down in history as a "big man". But then, after the shooting, Dan Rather tells us that Ray realized there was a slight miscalculation. He would not be hailed as a hero. Therefore he hightailed it out of Memphis. Dan the Man now comments that Ray must have breathed a sigh of relief that he was not caught. And he must have privately gloated that he had outwitted the SOB's again. (Rather is some corner bar psychologist eh? This is what this goofball got paid seven million a year for?)

But yet, the program is so desperate to establish a motive that it covers another base. Near the beginning of the show, when describing Ray's stay in prison in the early sixties, Sides and Posner say that Ray probably heard of a bounty on King's head by some Klan type groups in the south. And this may have inspired him to do what the did. But as several people have commented, if that were so, then why did Ray never even try to attempt to collect his cash reward, reportedly of about $50, 000? After all, Ray was free to do so for about two months after King's death. King was shot on April 4th. Ray was not apprehended at Heathrow until June 8th. Further, there is no evidence that either of his two brothers, John or Jerry, attempted to collect it for him.

Sides also adds that upon his return east from Los Angeles, Ray took out a General Delivery post office box in Atlanta. In this regard, it is appropriate to note that during the entire hour long show, there was not one mention of the name Raul. This is the man that Ray said maneuvered him from Canada into the USA from the second half of 1967 until the murder of King. This void is even more startling in light of the fact that TV producer Jack Saltman appears to have found out who Raul actually was. Further, that Ray had pointed out his picture back in 1977 and the HSCA appears to have known who he was. But further, even the Memphis Police seemed to have leads on him back in 1968! (See part 4 of my review of The 13th Juror.)

Toward the end of the show, Sides very briefly comments on the whole conspiracy angle of the King murder. He gives it the back of his hand by saying that it is much too complicated. The implication being that such a conspiracy could not be kept straight by the perpetrators. To be fair to Sides, let us not argue that here. (See The 13th Juror for the actual details of how it worked.) But since the program unambiguously states that Ray did kill King, let us discuss that crucial point. Does the evidence actually make that case beyond a reasonable doubt? The viewer has no chance to judge for himself, since the evidence for the prosecution – let alone the defense – – is never presented. In light of that, let us present a small amount of it here.

Is there a witness who places Ray in the bathroom at the time of the shooting? Well, sort of. His name is Charlie Stephens. Unfortunately for Sides, the man was dead drunk at the time. Though he still cooperated with the prosecution. Further, his common law wife, Grace Stephens – who would not cooperate – was sent to a mental institution for ten years. (DiEugenio and Pease pgs. 462, 466, 500 – 501)

What about the rifle in question? What the show eliminates is that the Game Master 30.06 was not the first rifle Ray picked up. Ray picked up a different rifle first and then returned it a couple of days later. Why would one do such a thing if one was not following orders from above? Further, as Judge Joe Brown testified at the Jowers vs. King civil trial, the Game Master is a weapon that cannot be manually sited in to ensure the telescopic site is accurate. This rifle has to be machine calibrated. If not, the aim will very likely be off. (ibid, p. 469) The place where Ray bought the rifle did not have this machine.

Third, if Ray shot King from that communal bathroom, he would have had to be standing in a bathtub. When Paris-Match tried to simulate this position, "they had to pose their model on the rim of the tub toward the back, and then contort him into a position to lift the rifle to the window." (ibid, p. 462) I should add here, the state of Tennessee understands this problem. So today when you visit that exhibit at the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, the tub has been moved further away from the window.

Fourth, if Ray did the shooting, why could the FBI never positively match up the fatal bullet to the Game Master? And when Judge Brown wanted to proceed with conclusive tests which would prove this point once and for all, he was removed from the King case. (ibid, p. 453) I should add here, one of the local DA's involved in removing Brown at the time – John Campbell – is one of the main talking heads on this show. For PBS, Sides, Rather and Posner were not imbalance enough.

Finally, if one is to believe the official story, one has to believe that when Ray escaped the boarding house after shooting King, he did something unbelievably stupid. He dropped a bundle of his belongings on the ground outside Canipe's Novelty store before jumping into his white Mustang. As Mark Lane has stated, if Ray did that he should be found not guilty by reason of insanity. (ibid, p. 462) But it's actually worse than that. For at the civil trial it was revealed that the owner of Canipe's, Guy Canipe, told Arthur Hanes that the bundle of articles was deposited in front of his store ten minutes before the shooting took place. (ibid, p. 500)

So just with these few points, we have established that the case against Ray is a weak one. Consider the following:

  1. No credible witness places Ray in the bathroom at the time.

  2. The aim of the rifle in evidence was not properly calibrated and therefore was not accurate.

  3. Ray could not have positioned himself atop the bathtub in order to get an accurate shot fired.

  4. The fatal bullet was never matched to the rifle

  5. The rifle in evidence was dropped in front of Canipe's store before the shot was fired.

Not one word of any of the above is mentioned in this show. Even though all of it has been proven, and most of it was presented under oath, subject to cross – examination, at the civil trial. If it had been presented, then of course, there probably would have been no show. Since the program's thesis would have been seriously undermined.

And this is what is most troubling about this program. Like Robert Stone's rigged film on Oswald, there is no real debate or dissent allowed. Thus there is no opportunity to challenge the nonsensical comments of buffoons like Dan Rather.

Yet, recall, this is not CBS. This is PBS. Which is billed as alternative broadcasting. It is supposed to be something different than the mainstream. Dan Rather is not different than the mainstream. He is the mainstream. He epitomizes everything that was wrong with broadcast journalism for the past fifty years. While he did quite well shilling for his corporate sponsors, he is one of the reasons the rest of us are not so well off today. Yet here he is, on so – called alternative TV reciting the same script he did for CBS. Repeating the same lies he did back in the sixties and seventies on another outlet in the new millennium.

What a disgrace. PBS should be ashamed of itself. The worst part of this sorry production though is this: they aren't. That's how compromised American Experience is on the assassinations of the sixties.

Don't ask me why.

Addendum to Roads to Memphis

I should have added three other points to the above review. They show just how intent on ignoring the 1999 King vs. Jowers civil trial director Stephen Ives was. For from the very title, the program tries to insinuate that James Earl Ray was following King through America in the last several months of his life. As I noted, the program completely eliminates the personage of Raul, the apparent CIA contact who manipulated Ray at his time. Therefore it cuts off the reason for Ray's maneuverings. But it's worse than that. As Ray's lawyer William Pepper stated at trial, when King arrived in Los Angeles, Ray left the city. (The 13th Juror, p. 741) Further, there were several places that Ray was not in at all when King visited them in those months: Selma, New York, Chicago, and Florida.

Secondly, the program's use of the map found by the FBI in Atlanta is even worse than Harold Weisberg described. As Pepper told the jury in Memphis, "The Atlanta map is nowhere related to Dr. King's residence. It is three oblong circles that covered general areas, one where he was living on Peachtree." (ibid)

Finally, I should have noted an extraordinary stroke that director Ives used in his "recreations". During the speech that King gave the night before he was shot-the famous "Been to the Mountaintop" speech-Ives clearly insinuates that Ray is standing outside the door of the church. The problem with this "recreation" is that there is no evidence in the record for it. Even though there were 2,000 people in attendance, there is no witness who saw Ray at the Mason Temple Church. (Philip Melanson, The Martin Luther King Assassination, p. 2) Secondly, at the civil trial, in a video taped posthumous deposition, Ray gave a complete, hour by hour chronicling of his comings and goings in Memphis once he arrived at the New Rebel Motel on April 3rd. The opposing attorney never even asked Ray if he was at the Mason Temple Church. He knew he wasn't. (The 13th Juror pgs. 658-673) Let us recall: this is a documentary into which Ives is inserting something for which he has no factual basis. We're in John Hankey country.

Any serious student of the King case should ignore both this program and the book by Hampton Sides. Instead, read The 13th Juror.

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 November 2016 04:13
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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