SALON Daily Clicks: Newsreal

Is Martin Luther King Jr.'s son a fool or a knave? Answer: He's both.

Published April 4, 1997 8:00PM (EST)

in an op-ed piece in Wednesday's New York Times, David Garrow, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Martin Luther King Jr., takes King's son to task for declaring that James Earl Ray did not assassinate his father on this day 29 years ago. Garrow wrote that Dexter King's "conduct is so misinformed and irresponsible that it threatens to betray his father's legacy."

Threatens? Dexter King could not have done more to betray that legacy if he had dug up his father's bones, pulverized them into dust and spat on his grave. His action brought home just how intellectually and morally bankrupt the civil rights movement has become.

In a bizarre episode last week, a nattily dressed Dexter King marched into the Nashville prison where James Earl Ray is serving a life sentence, shook the hand of his father's assassin and told him, "I believe you and my family believes you." Describing their meeting as a "spiritual experience," King accepted the lowlife bank robber's protestations of innocence, claims he has periodically proffered ever since voluntarily pleading guilty 28 years ago.

How all the white supremacists in the land must have laughed. Numerous investigations, including the House Assassinations Committee in 1978, have shown beyond the shadow of a doubt that Ray pulled the trigger on that fateful day, April 4, 1968. Dexter King has not one iota of evidence to contradict the official investigation's findings. What he does have, he told a Nashville news conference, is "My instincts ... that there are those forces out there that don't want what has been in darkness to come to light." That, and Ray's attorney, who has been leading the King family on a merry chase after unnamed "conspirators" who are supposedly the real killers of King. Oh yes, and a movie deal with myth-maker extraordinaire Oliver Stone, who cannot wait to unspool another vile distortion of American history, this time on the King case.

Dexter King might be dismissed as a hustler, or a vaguely potty relative of a political leader, like Roger Clinton or Billy Carter. But as president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Atlanta, he's the official inheritor and spokesman for King's movement. As such, he's all too symptomatic of how badly corroded that movement, and its leaders, have become -- blame-mongers with little more to offer America's besieged black community than vague references to "forces out there" like the "CIA" and "white racism."

"In a strange sort of way, we're both victims," Dexter King told James Earl Ray, giving the victim pathology a sick new twist. But King is not alone in embracing people who sorely lack that moral character about which his father spoke so eloquently. In recent months, black churches have greeted O.J. Simpson like a long-lost brother; the Congressional Black Caucus feted Johnnie Cochran, who played the race card to get his client off; and the Rev. Jesse Jackson paid bedside homage to the late Tupac Shakur, whose "gangsta" role model sets such a constructive example to black youth.

In such a moral vacuum it is no surprise that the most listened-to black leader these days is Louis Farrakhan, a racist whose belief in blue-eyed devils, numerology and space ships differs only in degree from the conspiratorial worldview offered by more "moderate" leaders like Dexter King. With the heirs of the two greatest black leaders of our era -- King and Malcolm X -- converging in irrational paranoia, a civil rights movement rooted in rational democratic values has been officially snuffed out.

Meanwhile, racists and loons of various hues can now join hands and rewrite history at will. James Earl Ray didn't kill Martin Luther King Jr. The bigot Byron De La Beckwith didn't shoot Medgar Evers in 1963. The Ku Klux Klan didn't blow up four little girls in a Birmingham, Ala., church. It wasn't a gang of good 'ol boys, in an attempt to stop the gospel that Dexter King's father was spreading, who dumped the bodies of Goodman, Schwerner and Cheney in the red earth of Mississippi in 1964. It was all the work of the "dark forces" -- the CIA, the FBI, the ATF, the Zionist Occupied Government -- the same people who brought AIDS and crack to the black community, killed Martin, Malcolm, Bobby, JFK, Marilyn Monroe, the 168 people in Oklahoma City, Vincent Foster, the passengers on TWA 800, the extra-terrestrials who landed in Roswell, N.M., and -- we're sure to find -- members of Heaven's Gate.

In the end, it won't be the penny-ante thugs and racists like James Earl Ray who destroy the hopes and aspirations, still denied, of black Americans. It will be the mind-set perpetrated by the likes of Dexter King, leaders who have abdicated their intellectual and moral responsibilities and embraced myth, paranoia and helplessness -- everything that his father fought against.

By Andrew Ross

Andrew Ross is Salon's executive vice president.

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