As I am neither a drinker nor doper and lack the charisma to be a philanderer, I will spend that lag time between New Year's Eve and New Year's Day mulling over the things of real importance on this here madly spinning orb, things upon which just possibly I can force a wee smidgen of clarity and righteousness. Should that present much difficulty, I will do something considerably more pleasant.I love lists. Best songs, worst restaurants, best movies, worst bathroom fixtures, best books, most impressive window awnings--you name it, I have a list to go with it. As the year 2015 approaches, my personal To Do List includes the astounding as well as the trite, the fun as well as the mundane, the typical as well as the transcendent. To end the suspense: I want to reconnect with certain people from my misspent youth; I want to return to San Francisco for a couple days; and I want to settle upon which conspiracies I can thoroughly embrace and which ones I must permanently reject.
When one stumbles upon the word "conspiracy," strange sensations may trouble the mind. Is the purveyor of the theory full of pintos and garbanzos, someone merely seeking to impose significance upon this often uninspiring universe, or has the theory-monger actually pulled together something at least minimally plausible? Is the theorizer debasing the practice of gaining clarity for personal aggrandizement, or is the person quite simply unsettled with the current state of comprehension regarding a presumably urgent matter?
To those of us of a certain age, the Big Trilogy of Tragedies was the assassination of John Kennedy on November 22, 1963, of Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968, and of Robert Kennedy on June 6, 1968. It is challenging to convey to younger people the magnitude of these deaths, in part because the murders occurred within an historical context that even those of us who lived through them find hard to fathom. Civil rights workers were sliced and diced by the score and buried in landfills while entire southern states nodded and bowed to their own triumvirate, being Messers Ku, Klux and Klan, which made more than mildly ironic that the unGodly process appeared to end with the failed assassination of George Wallace in 1972.
"But, Dude, aren't you just livin' in the past? There's a whole new wild world out there, Gramps, and maybe it would behoove your sorry ass to explore that instead of whining into your oatmeal about some sad stuff you can't do nuthin' 'bout no way."
Of course, my way does lie madness. But maybe a bit of madness amidst all the presumed sanity is just what we need, especially for those of us who suspect we have seen all the new stuff many times already, from CIA malfeasance to exploitation of women and persecution of those without at the hands of those with far too much.
I have read many books about the murder of Big John, the President. All I know for certain is that the one man who most certainly did not fire those shots in Dallas that day was Lee Harvey Oswald. Beyond that, the reader's guess is probably as good as mine, but if you want mine, it runs that anti-Castro Cuban exiles look pretty good for it, especially considering how those same people keep popping up throughout the second half of the twentieth century.
The murder about which I know the least is Robert Kennedy's. What I do know is that he was slaughtered on the same day that he and fellow anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy captured better than eighty percent of their party's primary votes in California and that with Kennedy dead the financially profitable Vietnam War was able to continue unfettered for many more years. However, motive--no matter how compelling--is not evidence of anything. On the other hand, presumed shooter Sirhan Sirhan's explanation that he was pissed off at Kennedy's professed policies regarding Palestinians rings hollow.
In between the Kennedy slayings rests the death of Martin Luther King. For those who found it difficult to understand how an ex-Marine could shoot a moving target (who just happened to be the President of the United States) through a blossomed tree at a distance of one hundred yards, scoring two out of three shots in less than six seconds for no other reason than ennui, the assassination of Dr. King by James Earl Ray was mind-boggling. Ray had escaped from prison, had no known skills, hung out in Canadian bars yapping about how he wished he had himself some money, acquired a white Ford Mustang, somehow knew that King was going to be staying in the Lorraine Motel in Memphis even though the civil rights leader had invariably stayed in the Holiday Inn on every other visit to Memphis, somehow knew when King would be exiting his motel room and would just sort of stand around waiting to be picked off, and then, the first official theory went, somehow lost all sense and left the murder weapon on the sidewalk so the police could find it while somehow managing to finance an impressive escape that took him from the United States into Europe and finally to his eventual capture at a London airport. To add to the absurdity, nine years after the murder, the "confessed" assassin escaped from Tennessee's Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary (along with six other prisoners) and was recaptured two days later. This escape was well timed, occurring in the midst of a highly publicized Playboy interview and only a few weeks before the formation of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, part of whose duties were to explore the killing of MLK. Struggle for leadership of the HSCA was itself a bloody mess. Nevertheless, a lot of fascinating testimony came out from the so-called conspiracy buffs who had been choking the airwaves on talk radio stations for years. But a few of these people actually did know what they were talking about and not all of them manifested during the 1970s. Regarding JFK, the most reasonable thinkers would include Mark Lane, Dick Gregory, Penn Jones Jr., Bertrand Russell, Sylvia Meagher, and--please don't get bitchy about this--Jim Garrison and Oliver Stone.
Lane and Gregory shared an interest--a noble compulsion, if you will--regarding the killing of Martin Luther King. The same year that James Ray escaped and was recaptured, he hired Mark Lane as his attorney. Ray had been trying to obtain a new trial ever since being tricked into entering a guilty plea by his earlier lawyer, Percy Foreman. Also that same year, 1977, Mark Lane and Dick Gregory published a book called Code Name Zorro, reissued in 1993 as Murder in Memphis. Comedian and social activist Dick Gregory provides several chapters on the background of King's work, a background that would soon become legacy. The chapters Gregory wrote are clear, concise, historically relevant and often quite moving.
Mark Lane's contribution to the book are a bit less linear, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The problem, if you want to call it that, is that the complexities of a political assassination require a narrative that moves in and out of the present, dipping here into the past and there into the possible future. When one concedes that large chunks of the story cannot be specified, the job of relating the story becomes enormous. Fortunately, Lane is sharp and tenacious, even though he knows it, and has a style which is on occasion smarmy, on occasion fang-like in its incites.
While this pre-New Year's Day essay is supposed to be more or less a book review, in this instance the book itself is going to be a jumping board for something I've made swift reference of several months back.
In April 1968, a man named Loyd Jowers owned a Memphis restaurant called Jim's Grill. The eatery was near the Lorraine Motel. Even though the FBI didn't look closely at Jowers and his associates following the assassination, a number of researchers gave him quite a close examination. In December 1993, Jowers made an appearance on an ABC news program wherein he confessed to having a role in the murder and further claiming that Ray had been set up as a patsy.
The United States Department of Justice yawned into action, summarily concluding that Jowers' was a discredited witness who couldn't find his ass with a flashlight and a two-day head start. That conclusion wasn't terribly surprising in light of the fact that the FBI had been complicit attempts to discredit, slander and cause harm to Martin Luther King prior to and following his murder.
In November 1999, the King Family brought a civil suit against Jowers and others. They were not looking for money. They were seeking confirmation. And man, did they get it. After six weeks of testimony, the jury unanimously declared that--well, it can be summed up like this:
THE COURT: In answer to the question did Loyd Jowers participate in a conspiracy to do harm to Dr. Martin Luther King, your answer is yes. Do you also find that others, including governmental agencies, were parties to this conspiracy as alleged by the defendant? Your answer to that one is also yes. And the total amount of damages you find for the plaintiffs entitled to is one hundred dollars. Is that your verdict?
THE JURY: Yes (In unison).
When you have time, you can read the transcripts of the trial MLK Civil trial transcripts.
Part of what I consider to be the continued importance of all this allegedly ancient history is that we cannot know what we know unless we understand upon what kind of foundation our assumptions rest. If those in positions of inherited authority have achieved their positions through nefarious methods, then perhaps a critical eye should inquire into their current behavior.
While we wait for someone else to do the heavy lifting, have a nice New Year. I hope to join you there.