Why the U.S. Government Assassinated Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. (Text)

Why the U.S. Government Assassinated Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. ByRoland Sheppard

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Malcolm X was assassinated fifty years ago, on February 21, 1965. Three years later, Martin Luther King, Jr. was also assassinated (April 4, 1968). These murders marked an escalation in the U.S. Government’s war against the Civil Rights Movement.

 In the 1960s, Roland Sheppard regularly attended Malcolm XIS meetings in Harlem. Between 1964 and 1965, he was in charge of security when Malcolm X spoke at the Militant Labor Forum in New York City. He is one of the few remaining people who personally witnessed the assassination of Malcolm X in the Audubon Ballroom.

A life-long socialist, Sheppard was active in the Civil Rights Movement, the movement against the U.S. war in Vietnam, the Black Liberation Movement, the struggle for women’s liberation, for union rights, for workers democracy, and for socialism. He worked for 31 years as a union painter until his 1994 election as an official for Painters Local 4 in San Francisco.

 Sheppard is often invited to speak about his experiences. One time, when he was addressing an inner-city history class, he was astonished to find that the class textbook contained only two pages on the Civil Rights Movement.

 The students had a lot of questions after Sheppard’s presentation, and many stayed after school to continue the discussion. They were hungry for knowledge about their history.

 Sheppard wrote this pamphlet to feed that hunger and to inspire the next generation of Freedom Fighters. — Susan Rosenthal for ReMarx Publishing


It has been half a century since Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., were assassinated. In the case of Malcolm X, several members of the Nation of Islam were convicted. In the case of Martin Luther King, Jr., one assassin, James Earl Ray, was convicted. Despite these convictions and ongoing efforts by government and police agencies, and various writers and pundits to put the assassinations to rest, many questions remain unanswered.

In the 1970s, the public was made aware of the U.S. Government’s secret COINTELPRO program to employ informers, agents, and provocateurs to disrupt the Civil Rights Movement, the antiVietnam-War Movement, and radical and socialist organizations. One of the goals of this program was to ‘neutralize’ Black leaders like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Elijah Muhammad in order to prevent the emergence, to use the government’s term, of a Black Messiah who would unite and lead Black Americans in their struggle for equality and freedom. In other words, the United States Government had the same motive to assassinate Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.

 On December 8, 1999, almost 32 years after King’s murder, a Memphis court extended the responsibility for the assassination beyond James Earl Ray to the United States Government. In “The Martin Luther King Conspiracy Exposed in Memphis,” Jim Douglass writes,

 “To say that U.S. government agencies killed Martin Luther King on the verge of the Poor People’s Campaign is a way into the deeper truth that the economic powers that be (which dictate the policies of those agencies) killed him. In the Memphis prelude to the Washington campaign, King posed a threat to those powers of a nonviolent revolutionary force. Just how determined they were to stop him before he reached Washington was revealed in the trial by the size and complexity of the plot to kill him.”

 Murdering Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. was not sufficient for the U.S. Government. It was also necessary to distort what they stood for. Lenin describes this process in State and Revolution:

 “During the lifetime of great revolutionaries, the oppressing classes constantly hounded them, received their theories with the most savage malice, the most furious hatred and the most unscrupulous campaigns of lies and slander. After their death, attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonize them, 50 to say, and to hallow their names to a certain extent for the consolation of the oppressed classes and with the object of duping the latter, while at the same time robbing the revolutionary theory of its substance, blunting its revolutionary edge and vulgarizing it.”

 It is important to tell the truth about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., to keep their ideas alive, and to prevent them from being turned into harmless icons. That is why I wrote this pamphlet, based on upon what I have learned and on my own personal experience. —  Roland Sheppard

 This pamphlet has its origin in a paper that was first published as the February, 2001 Monthly Feature for the Holt Labor Library and later included in the City College of New York’s (CCNY) Black Studies Program for The Third Symposium of Institution Building in Harlem: The Malcolm X Legacy: A Global Perspective (May 20,2005).

 All of Roland Sheppard’s essays are posted on www.rolandsheppard.com

 The Assassination of Malcolm X

 I personally witnessed Malcolm X’s assassination.

 The afternoon of February 21, 1965, I went to the Audubon Ballroom to hear Malcolm X speak. When I arrived, I was surprised, to see no cops. Malcolm X’s meetings in Harlem were usually crawling with cops.

 I began to sell my socialist newspaper, The Militant, and as Malcolm X approached the Ballroom, I offered him the latest issue. He replied, “Not today, Roland. I am alone and in a hurry.”

 When I entered the hall, I did not see any cops. I normally sat in the front-left side of the hall, along with the rest of the press, but that day, Gene Roberts told me that I had to sit in the front-right side of the hall. Roberts was later exposed as a police-agent member of the Black Panther Party.

 I glanced over to where I normally sat, and I saw a large Black man in a navy blue-gray trench coat. Then the meeting started. All was quiet as the crowd listened to Benjamin X introduce Malcolm X.

 When Malcolm X approached the podium, he gave the normal Muslim greeting for peace. At that point, there was a disturbance in the back of the room to the right of the stage. I saw two men, and one was shouting, “Get your hand out of my pocket!”

 As Malcolm X tried to calm things down, the two men – one later identified as Talmadge Hayer – started running down the aisle shouting and firing a pistol at Malcolm X. Then they ran out the exit doors by the stage, to the right of Malcolm X.

 Then I heard gunshots coming from everywhere, and I instinctively hit the floor. When I looked up, I saw Malcolm X standing on the stage and glaring down at one of his assassins. From the corner of  my eye, I saw a bright flash, and I watched Malcolm X fall back about 10 feet.

 In that instant, Malcolm X died before my eyes. This vision of Malcolm X, being assassinated, has haunted me ever since. It was the saddest day of my life.

 As I left the hall, Malcolm’s bodyguards told me that they had caught two of the assassins, one who was shot – Talmadge Hayer – and one whom the police took away.

 A few weeks later, when I was questioned in the Harlem police station, I was shown photographs of people whom I recognized as members of the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X’s organization. I was also shown a photograph of the large Black man in the navy blue-gray trench coat.

 I did not know how to tell the cops that I did not recognize the photos of Malcolm’s friends and supporters. To buy some time, I told them that I had to go to the rest room.

 As I approached the men’s room, I saw the same large Black man coming out of the men’s room that I had seen in the Audubon Ballroom and in the photos that the cops had shown me, the same man who had sat in the area from where the shotgun blast had originated. He walked past me, past the desks of the secretarial pool, and entered what looked like his office inside the police station! (Years later, I learned that this man was William Bradley and that he had been the assassin with the shotgun.)

 That was when I realized that the police and other government agencies had killed Malcolm X or were part of the assassination plot. I became very nervous thinking about what I was going to say to the cops when I got back and how I was going to get out of the police station alive.

 So I said, “I cannot recognize anyone. All Black people look the  same.” The cops nodded in agreement, and I was allowed to leave.

 After the assassination, I remember the mass media spewing their class hatred of Malcolm X, gloating and cheering his assassination. I also remember the outpouring of grief from tens of thousands in Harlem, who stood in line for days to view his casket. Ossie Davis countered the hyenas of the press with his stirring eulogy to Malcolm X,  “what we place in the ground is no more now a man but a seed which, after the winter of our discontent, will come forth again to meet us. And we will know him then for what he was and is – a Prince. Our own Black shining Prince who didn’t hesitate to die, because he loved us so.”

 It was not enough to assassinate Malcolm X. His influence was so powerful that his enemies also had to assassinate him politically.

 In the 1990s, several books were published with the aim of camouflaging Malcolm X’s political evolution. Two examples are Malcolm: The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America, (1995), by Bruce Perry and Malcolm X: The Assassination (1995), by Michael Friedly.

 Perry and Friedly support the U.S. Government’s position that the Nation of Islam was solely responsible for the assassination and that the Government was not involved. To support their case, both authors deny Malcolm X’s growing radicalization and the political threat he represented which are documented in George Breitman’s books: The Last Year of Malcolm X: The Evolution of a Revolutionary (1970) and The Assassination of Malcolm X (1991).

 The Last Year of Malcolm X covers material that is missing from Malcolm X’s autobiography, which was co-authored with Alex Haley. Haley disagreed with Malcolm X’s developing radicalism and, as Breitman shows, inserted misconceptions into the book’s epilogue. Breitman provides a more accurate picture, using the evidence of Malcolm X’s later speeches and statements and his collaboration with the Socialist Workers Party (U.S.)

 Despite the many media attacks and distortions, Malcolm X continues to live in our hearts – a martyred leader of his people and an uncompromising advocate of human rights and freedom.

 The Government’s Motive

 Many liberals and conservative Black Nationalists wrongly paint Malcolm X as a hater of White people. They refuse to acknowledge that he had become a political threat to the capitalist establishment. Denying this threat supports the lie that the U.S. Government played no part in his assassination. In fact, Malcolm X was becoming a huge threat.

 During his last year, Malcolm X came to the conclusion that as long as racism was profitable, African-Americans would never achieve social equality. On March 29, 1964, he stated,  “The system of this country cannot produce freedom for an Afro-American. It is impossible for this system, this economic system, this political system, this social system, this system period. It is impossible for it, as it now stands, to produce freedom right now for the Black man in this country.”

 Malcolm X was the first mass leader in the United States to oppose the U.S. war against Vietnam and to connect the oppression of African-Americans with the struggles of oppressed peoples throughout the world. Had he lived, Malcolm X would likely have spoken at the first mass demonstration against the Vietnam War in 1965. His powerful oratory, combined with his standing among inner-city Blacks, would have pushed the Anti-War Movement in a more radical direction.

 Malcolm X was a giant of a man. I personally heard him speak at all but two of his meetings in Harlem, at the Audubon Ballroom and elsewhere. He was the most honest mass leader that I have ever known. He was a great orator, and his speeches seemed like a conversation between himself and the audience. His power lay in his ability to make complex ideas clear and understandable. He was not a demagogue. He appealed to the honor and courage of his audience. A good example was his address to the 1962 rally in New York City to support striking Hospital Workers Local 1199. .”The hospital strikers have demonstrated that you don’t get a job done unless you show the Man you’re not afraid to go to jail. If you’re not willing to pay that price, then you don’t deserve the rewards or benefits that go along with it.”

 His was the most moving speech at the rally and when he finished, all the workers – Black, White, and Puerto Rican – cheered wildly. This was the typical response to Malcolm X, whether he spoke in Harlem or at Oxford University in England.

 At the Oxford Union Debate (December 3, 1964) Malcolm X ended his speech by quoting Shakespeare:

 “I remember one thing [Shakespeare] wrote that kind of moved me. [Hamlet] was in doubt about something. Whether it was nobler in the mind of man to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take up arms against a sea of troubles and, by opposing, end them. And I go for that. If you take up arms, you’ll end it, but if you sit around and wait for the one who’s in power to make up his mind that he should end it, you’ll be waiting a long time. And in my opinion, the young generation of Whites, Blacks, Browns … you’re living at a time of extremism, a time of  revolution, a time when there’s got to be a change. People in power have misused it, and now there has to be a change, and a better world has to be built, and the only way it’s going to be built is with extreme methods. And I, for one, will join in with anyone, I don’t care what color you are, as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth. Thank you.”

 Malcolm X approached the struggle of African-Americans as a fight for full human rights, not just legal rights. He supported anticolonial revolutions in Africa, Vietnam, and Cuba – in direct opposition to the policies of the United States government. In December 1964, Malcolm X met with Che Guevara and the Cuban delegation to the United Nations with the aim of mutual support. Malcolm X was becoming a real threat to U.S. capitalism. That is why the United States Government assassinated him.

 Just before his assassination, Malcolm X knew that he had become a target. He told me and Clifton DeBerry, the presidential candidate of the Socialist Workers Party, that he hoped to live long enough to build a viable organization based on his current ideas, so that he would be more dangerous to the system dead than alive.

 The Cover-Up

 The initial reports of the assassination stated that two people had been caught by the crowd. Later on, the press and the police reported that the crowd had caught only one person, Talmadge Hayer, who was shot in the leg and taken by police to the hospital across the street. No explanation has ever been given for that change in the story.

 On “The Smoking Gun” web site, a 1965 police affidavit of an eyewitness statement confirms that the crowd had caught two people. And in a news video released immediately after the assassination, the New York Police Department’s Chef Inspector Taylor confirmed that two suspects had been caught.

 Talmadge Hayer’s version of events corresponds with my own impressions at the scene. Hayer states that when he was shot and caught by the crowd he could see one of his accomplices running ahead of him. When I got outside the Ballroom, Malcolm X’s guards told me that two people had been caught by the crowd at the same time and that one was taken to the hospital by the police and the other taken into police custody. Hayer was taken to the hospital and then booked.

 What happened to the second man? Why wasn’t he brought to trial? I believe that the second man, the one running ahead of Hayer, was William Bradley, a police or government agent. And he was not the only one present.

 The first police report stated that five men were involved in the assassination; yet only three were accused and later convicted.

 Perry’s book supports the official police version of the assassination and ignores Hayer’s affidavit that the two other men convicted, Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson (both members of the Nation of Islam), were not at the meeting where Malcolm X was killed.

 When I was called before the Grand Jury on the assassination, Malcolm’s primary assistant, James Shabazz, confirmed that Butler and Johnson were well known and would not have been allowed to enter the Ballroom.

 Friedly’s book offers a more sophisticated cover-up. The book puts the blame solely on the Nation of Islam while also criticizing the police investigation.

 Both Friedly and Hayer state that five members of the Nation of Islam carried out the assassination, three people doing the shooting up front, and two people creating a diversion by setting off a smoke bomb at the back of the room.

 Hayer stated that the five assassins cased one of Malcolm X’s meetings at the Audubon Ballroom in the winter of 1964-65 and concluded that they would have a good chance of escape. This is unbelievable. There were normally 30 to 50 uniformed cops at Malcolm X’s meetings, stationed at all the exits inside and outside the building. Under these conditions, escape would not have been easy.

 At the meeting where Malcolm X was assassinated, the police were nowhere to be found, despite being warned that an assassination attempt was imminent, To succeed, the assassins would have had to know that the cops would be absent.

 Authors Perry and Friedly, and the police, all claim that Malcolm X requested no police protection that day. This is a lie. Malcolm X’s wife, Betty Shabazz, denies that any such request was made.

 Both Perry and Friedly discount any possible involvement by FBI operatives, the New York City police, or the CIA. However, when Martin Luther King, Jr.’s lawyer was interviewed in the 1992 CBS documentary, The Real Malcolm X, An Intimate Portrait of the Man, he stated:

“Knowing what I now know of the various investigative agencies of the U.S. Government with respect to Martin King, for example, and knowing what they did to political parties, like the Black Panther Party, I have no doubt that the assassination of Malcolm X was calculated, planned by agencies at the highest level of this government. I don’t have any question, I don’t have any doubt in my mind that is what happened … “


 Since its formation in 1908, the FBI has worked to sabotage domestic political organizations: by forging documents to discredit individuals and groups; by planting false reports in the media; and through harassment, violence, wrongful imprisonment, and assassination. The FBI’s stated motive for these tactics is  “protecting national security, preventing violence, and maintaining the existing social and political order,

 The FBI’s secret Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) was launched in August 1956 to “increase factionalism, cause disruption, and win defections” inside the Communist Party U.S.A.

 In 1957, when the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was founded, the FBI targeted the group. After the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Martin Luther King, Jr. was identified as a major threat. According to William C. Sullivan, the FBI agent in charge of COINTELPRO,

 “In the light of King’s powerful demagogic speech … We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security.”

 Soon after, the FBI was systematically bugging King’s home and his hotel rooms.

 During the urban Black rebellions in 1967, the FBI launched

 “COINTELPRO-BLACK HATE,” which focused on King and the SCLC as well as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and its leader Stokely Carmichael.

 BLACK HATE established the Ghetto Informant Program that instructed 23 FBI offices to “disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalist hate-type organizations”. A particular target was the Poor People’s Campaign, a national effort organized by King and the SCLC to occupy Washington, D.C.

 In 1971, the existence of COINTELPRO was exposed when activists entered an FBI field office in Pennsylvania and stole secret files proving that the U.S. Government was conducting a massive spying campaign against dissident Americans.

 Eighty-five percent of COINTELPRO resources targeted the left: communist and socialist organizations; organizations and individuals associated with the Civil Rights Movement; Black Nationalist groups; the American Indian Movement; a broad range of “New Left” organizations; groups protesting the U.S. war against Vietnam; individual student demonstrators; the National Lawyers Guild; organizations and individuals associated with the women’s movement; dissident U.S. politicians, journalists, athletes, etc.

 On reviewing the FBI files, reporter Betty Medsger discovered that,

 “Every FBI agent was required to hire at least one informer to report to him regularly on the activities of black people. In the District, every agent was required to hire six informers for that purpose. On one campus in the Philadelphia area, Swarthmore College, every black student was under surveillance.”

 FBI informers reported on every meeting, every word, and every action of members of the Black Panther Party, SNCC and other groups. FBI agents used informers to create dissension among activists and succeeded in weakening and destroying many organizations. And they are still doing it.

 Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning remind us that nothing has changed except that in the 21st century, government agencies possess even more powerful tools to spy on and disrupt the lawful activities of dissidents.

 The Threat to U.S. Capitalism


 Malcolm X was considered such a threat that he was placed on the FBI’s COMSAB and DETCOM lists. COMSAB – Communist Sabotage, was a list of every American considered to be a treat to national security in the event of war. DETCOM – Detention of Communists was a list of every American whose arrest was to be given high priority in the event of a war or national emergency. They had good reason to fear Malcolm X.

 Ahmed Ben Bella, the leader of the Algerian Revolution, had invited Malcolm X along with Che Guevara and other leaders of independence movements to a conference in Bandung beginning March 3, 1965.

 Malcolm X had also convinced Ethiopia and Liberia to include human rights violations against African-Americans in their petition on South-African human rights violations to the International Court of Justice at The Hague. The petition was to be presented on March 12, 1965.

 Had Malcolm X lived to attend the conference and the petition hearing, the stories would have made front-page headlines around the world and discredited the United States Government. To prevent this, Malcolm X had to be silenced.

 Malcolm X was assassinated ten days before the Bandung conference began. Several African government officials who had been working with Malcolm X were also assassinated, and the Ben Bella government was overthrown a few months later (June, 1965).


 The FBI was concerned about Malcolm X’s growing influence in America, and the CIA was concerned about his efforts to link the struggle of African-Americans with national liberation struggles in Africa and Latin America.

 After spending fifteen years researching more than 300,000 pages of declassified FBI and CIA documents, Washington Post staff writer Karl Evanzz summarized his findings in The Judas Factor (1992).

 Evanzz documents how the intelligence community, the CIA, the FBI, and the New York Police Bureau of Special Services and Investigation (BOSSI) used provocateurs and infiltrators to set the stage for the assassination of Malcolm X.

 “(A few days after Malcolm X’s press conference announcing his split from the Nation of Islam) William C. Sullivan (the FBI agent in charge of COINTELPRO) contacted the directors of BOSSI and asked them to recruit several African Americans to infiltrate Malcolm X’s new organization. [One of the directors], Anthony Ulasewicz … told Sullivan that he would have officers ready to infiltrate Malcolm X’s new organization within thirty days. While Sullivan was coordinating the domestic counter-intelligence program against Malcolm X with BOSSI, the CIA initiated a similar program to determine the extent of Malcolm X’s influence with Third World leaders.” (p.214)

 In the FBI files, Evanzz found a script for a movie on the assassination of Malcolm X that Louis Lomax was working on at the time of his death. In his introduction to the book, Evanzz writes,

 “I am convinced that Louis E. Lomax, an industrious African American journalist who befriended Malcolm X in the late 1950s, had practically solved the riddle of his assassination. Lomax, who died in a mysterious automobile accident while shooting a film in Los Angeles about the assassination, believed that Malcolm X was betrayed by a former friend who reportedly had ties to the intelligence community … In 1968, Lomax called the suspect ‘Judas.’ This, then, is the story of The Judas Factor.”

 The Judas Factor

 The Judas Factor refers to the FBI’s attempts to neutralize Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Elijah Muhammad from the inside.

 Evanzz was able to prove that the FBI had a high-level informant in the Nation of Islam, which enabled the agency to sow discontent among rising leaders of the Nation and to disrupt the organization’s activities.

 From the day that Malcolm X split from the Nation of Islam, the FBI worked on a daily basis with BOSSI and the CIA to infiltrate his new organization, the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), and disrupt its activities. William Sullivan (director of COINTELPRO) was in charge of the infiltration of the Nation of Islam and the OAAU.

 Evanzz documents a coordinated effort among government spy agencies to widen the split between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam, to increase tensions between their two organizations, and to undermine their support among African-Americans. I am convinced that some of the agents, informants, and provocateurs that infiltrated the Nation of Islam and the OAAU were present at the Audubon Ballroom when Malcolm X was assassinated.

 Evanzz provides circumstantial evidence that John Ali, a former friend of Malcolm X who became a national secretary of the Nation of Islam, was likely an FBI agent or informer – the Judas Factor.

 Evanzz provides a series of statements, from Malcolm X to Lomax, indicating that Malcolm X blamed John Ali for his expulsion from the Nation of Islam.

 In Cover-Up: Unravelling the Assassination of Malcolm X (1992), Baba Zak Kondo indicts John Ali as an FBI agent and informant.

 ” … As previously noted, Malcolm, who had a clear understanding of the internal workings of the NOI leadership, stated in early June 1964, that Ali was running the NOI to steal as much money as he could from its treasury.” (p.328)

 According to Frank Donner, author of The Age of Surveillance: The Aims and Methods of the American Political Intelligence System (1980), most FBI informants are motivated by money.

 “Victims, with good reason, typically charge that informants and defectors are motivated primarily by greed. The bureau knows and invariably weaves financial considerations into its snitch jacket scripts.” (p. 193)

 The Judas Factor shows that all the spy agencies in the United States were deeply involved, as infiltrators and agent provocateurs, to set the stage for Malcolm X’s assassination.

 In the 1992 CBS documentary, The Real Malcolm X, An Intimate Portrait of the Man, Dan Rather states,

 “We have now looked over 50,000 Freedom of Information Act files from the FBI and the CIA. … they do show, prior to Malcolm X’s death, that the CIA and the State Department were actively monitoring his travels abroad and telling foreign leaders to be wary of him. At the same time, FBI agents were trying to ’cause disruption and deepen the dispute between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad’ by,  among other things, forging Malcolm X’s signature and  sending inflammatory letters to Elijah Muhammad and his followers.”

 John Ali was in a perfect position to deliver forged letters to Elijah Muhammad. It should also be noted that John Ali met with Talmadge Hayer on February 20, 1965, the evening before the assassination.

See my essay, The Day The Music Died, for an update of the Malcolm X’s assassination and the identification ogf  the assassin with the shotgun!

 The Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

 Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated to subvert the Poor People’s Campaign. King was building a mass movement against poverty, and those who profit from poverty were determined to stop him.

 Since King’s assassination, the inconsistencies in the Government’s version of the crime have been well publicized. After COINTELPRO was exposed, the U.S. House of Representatives was pressured to launch an investigation into the Government’s role in the assassination. The Church committee released a report rubberstamping the official view that James Earl Ray was the lone assassin, and then it sealed the evidence for 50 years (until 2029). The only reason to keep these files secret is to protect the guilty.

 In the 1999 legal claim filed by the King family, “Coretta Scott King, et al. VS. Loyd Jowers, et al.,” the only named defendant, Loyd Jowers (the former owner of a Memphis bar and grill) was not their main concern. The primary defendants were the anonymous coconspirators who stood in the shadows behind Jowers.

 The Kings and William Pepper (James Earl Ray’s attorney) jointly charged U.S. intelligence agencies, particularly the FBI and Army intelligence, with organizing, subcontracting, and covering up the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Pepper accused these government agencies of serving as “the representatives, the foot soldiers, of the very economic interests that were going to suffer as a result of these times of change [being activated by King].”

 After considering all the evidence, a Memphis jury ruled that someone other than James Earl Ray had been the shooter. The jury also concluded that Loyd Jowers, the City of Memphis, the State of Tennessee, and federal government agencies were all involved in the assassination. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King concluded,

 “There is abundant evidence of a major high level conspiracy in the assassination of my husband, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil court’s unanimous verdict has validated our belief … It is important to know that this was a SWIFT verdict, delivered after about an hour of jury deliberation. The jury was clearly convinced by the extensive evidence that was presented during the trial that, along with Mr. Jowers, the conspiracy of the Mafia, local, state, and federal government agencies, were deeply involved in the assassination of my husband.”

 King’s son, Dexter King, added,

 “After today, we don’t want questions like, ‘Do you believe James Earl Ray killed your father?’ I’ve been hearing that all my life. No, I don’t, and this is the end of it. This was the most incredible cover-up of the century, and now it has been exposed. Now we can finally move on with our lives.”

 Since the trial, the King family and their attorney have lobbied ‘historians and elected officials to change the official record of the assassination, with little success.

 While many questions remain about the assassination of Martin  Luther King, Jr., one thing is certain; the FBI was involved.

 A few days before King arrived in Memphis, the FBI leaked information to the local press that he was going to be staying at a White hotel. This forced King to stay at the less secure Lorraine Motel.

 The Government’s Motive

 Why would the U.S. Government want to assassinate the man who gave the famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963? The answer lies in the fact that King had developed his political perspective since then. He had begun to view the struggle for racial equality as an economic struggle and the capitalist system as the problem.

 In one of his last speeches, titled the “The Other America,” delivered at Stanford University in April 1967, King addressed the problem of inequality. Instead of his dream, he talked about the nightmare of the economic condition of Blacks. He talked about: “work-starved men searching for jobs that did not exist.” He described the Black population as living on a “lonely island of poverty surrounded by an ocean of material prosperity” and living in a “triple ghetto of race, poverty, and human misery.” He explained that after World War II, the unemployment rate was equal for Blacks and Whites, but by 1967 Black unemployment was double the rate for White workers, and Black workers made half the wages of White workers.

 King launched his campaign for equality in Chicago and elsewhere in the North because he understood that solving the problem of

 ‘Two Americas’ was more difficult than eliminating legal segregation. He pointed out that the Northern liberals, who had given moral and financial support to end Jim Crow laws in the South, would not support the effort to end economic segregation.

 King attacked the concept that poor people should pick themselves up by their bootstraps. Pointing out that Blacks had come to America as slaves, he stated, “It is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man to pick himself up by his own bootstraps.” He added that Black People were “impoverished aliens in their own land.”

 King opposed the war in Vietnam. He criticized the government for spending hundreds of millions of dollars for war and not for equality, and he pledged to mobilize people to fight for economic equality.

 In his letter to rally support for the 1968 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, he wrote:

 “It was obdurate government callousness to misery that first stoked the flames of rage and frustration. With unemployment a scourge in Negro ghettos, the government still tinkers with half-hearted measures, refuses still to become an employer of last resort. It asks the business community to solve the problems as though its past failures qualified it for success.”

 At the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Convention in August 1967, he said,

 The movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. There are forty million poor people here, and one day we must ask the question, “Why are there forty million poor people in America?” And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy … We’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life’s marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. “Who owns the oil?”

 “Who owns the iron ore?” “Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that’s two-thirds water?”

 In, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1968) King describes the need for a “revitalized labor movement” to place “economic issues on the highest agenda.”

 “The coalition of an energized section of labor, Negroes, unemployed, and welfare recipients may be the source of power that reshapes economic relationships and ushers in a breakthrough to a new level of social reform …

 “There is nothing but a lack of social vision to prevent us from paying an adequate wage to every American citizen whether he be a hospital worker, laundry worker, maid, or day laborer.

“There is nothing to prevent us from paying adequate wages to schoolteachers, social workers and other servants of the public to insure that we have the best available personnel in these positions which are charged with the responsibility of guiding our future generations.

“There is nothing except shortsightedness to prevent us from guaranteeing an annual minimum – and livable – income for every American family.

 “There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from remolding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a true brotherhood.”

 At the time of their assassinations, both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. were moving into opposition against the capitalist system. They were beginning to see that the capitalist system

 I unarmed Black men prove that as long as there is no justice, there will be no peace.

 Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ‘Dream’ is not possible under the ‘Nightmare’ of capitalism. The system of capitalism is based on the exploitation of Labor, and racism is required to divide and weaken the working class. As Malcolm X said: “Racism is profitable. If it was not profitable, it would not exist.”

 The capitalist class and its servants in government are a tiny elite who rule by dividing the much larger working class by race, religion, nationality, gender, etc. Unless we challenge those divisions, none of us can hope for a better life.

 At Frogmore, S.C. on November 14, 1966, King echoed Malcolm X when he said,

 “You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry …. Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong … with capitalism …. There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.”

 The only lasting solution to the exploitation of workers and the oppression of African-Americans is for the multi-racial working class to unite and take control of society. That would be socialism. In such a society, there would be no need for any group of people to be oppressed. In such a society, Black workers would become the masters of the country that their ancestors built with their needs racism because it is profitable. And that is why they were assassinated.

 The Struggle for Freedom Today

 After Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated, the more conservative leaders of the Civil Rights Movement abandoned independent mass struggle in favor of trying to elect Democrats and other politicians who promise, “Vote for me; and I will set you free.” The Government supported such activities by distributing ‘War on Poverty’ money to Black organizations. What W.E. B. DuBois called the “talented tenth” got comfortable government jobs.

 The decline in mass struggle combined with the co-optation of many Black leaders meant that the concerns of Black workers were abandoned.

 Today, the strategy of seeking improvements through elections has proved to be bankrupt, as the pensions, wages, benefits, and the standard of living of all workers continue to be attacked. However, Black workers form a disproportionate share of the unemployed, the poor, and the imprisoned.

 Social conditions have reverted to the pre-Civil Rights era for most Blacks. According to the Harvard Civil Rights Project, the nation’s schools have become re-segregated along Black, Latino, and economic lines. As the inner cities become gentrified, Black and poor people are being forced out of their homes. A disproportionate number of Black families lost their homes to foreclosure during the mortgage crisis.

 Despite these discouraging losses, a new Civil Rights Movement will rise. The protests in support of the abandoned victims of Hurricane Katrina, the explosion of the immigrant rights movement, and the mass protests that consistently follow the police shooting an  unarmed Black men prove that as long as there is no justice, there will be no peace.

 Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ‘Dream’ is not possible under the ‘Nightmare’ of capitalism. The system of capitalism is based on the exploitation of Labor, and racism is required to divide and weaken the working class. As Malcolm X said: “Racism is profitable. If it was not profitable, it would not exist.”

 The capitalist class and its servants in government are a tiny elite who rule by dividing the much larger working class by race, religion, nationality, gender, etc. Unless we challenge those divisions, none of us can hope for a better life.

 At Frogmore, S.C. on November 14, 1966, King echoed Malcolm X when he said,

  “You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry …. Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong … with capitalism …. There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.”

 The only lasting solution to the exploitation of workers and the oppression of African-Americans is for the multi-racial working class to unite and take control of society. That would be socialism. In such a society, there would be no need for any group of people to be oppressed. In such a society, Black workers would become the masters of the country that their ancestors built with their blood and sweat under slavery: the chattel slavery of the plantations and the wage slavery of the cities.

 The previous Civil Rights Movement offers valuable lessons for today: if we don’t let them divide us; if we keep our politics independent of the Republican and Democratic Parties and the Government; if we rely only upon our own power in the streets, in the schools, and at work; if we take up the struggles of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the many other heroes of the movement – we can win.

 Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated as he began to build a  “coalition of labor, Negroes, unemployed, and welfare recipients” in support of striking municipal garbage workers. Such a coalition would have had the potential to unite the Civil Rights Movement, the Labor Movement and the Anti-War Movement to become “the source of power that reshapes economic relationships and ushers in a breakthrough to a new level of social reform.”

 The coalition that King envisioned almost 50 years ago is needed today.

The best tribute to Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. would be to learn from their struggles and carry their vision forward, to conclude what they so bravely began.

Don’t Let Them Devide Us!