USA - American life
killed Martin Luther King?
the night of April
4th 1968, someone was waiting opposite the windows of the Lorraine
in downtown Memphis.
In front of the motel, a big white
Cadillac was parked; it was the car in which the Rev. Martin Luther
was being driven round, as he traveled through the southern states,
to audiences in towns and cities, promoting the cause of non-violence
When King stepped out onto the balcony,
to take a breath of fresh air after eating his dinner, a shot
rang out. The civil rights leader and Nobel-prizewinner, the man who
non-violence, fell to the ground, fatally wounded. Within minutes, he
The news spread like wildfire round
the USA; the man who had done more, perhaps, than any other to further
the rights of Black people in the United States of America, had been
it seemed, by a lone sniper, a white extremist. Weeks later a man by
name of James Earl Ray was arrested and sentenced to 99 years in prison
for the assassination.
But is that really what happened?
Though James Earl Ray initially
to killing King, it was not long before he retracted
his statement; and to this day, there are those who do not believe that
Ray was actually guilty of the crime for which he spent almost
30 years behind bars.
Indeed, the calls for Ray's release
grew stronger by the year, to the point that even Dexter King, Martin
Luther King's son, now believes that Ray was not his father's
But if Ray did not do the deed,
who did? And why? Was it just a pure racist crime? Or was this a
assassination ordered by some faceless figures in some secret service?
The theory that King was really assassinated by the Secret Service has
been growing more and more popular over recent years, and was even the
subject of an "X-Files" episode. So how real is the conspiracy theory?
And what reasons might anyone other than a racist have had to get
a charismatic and peaceful leader like Martin
We have to take ourselves back to 1968.
Since 1955, King had been at the front of the Civil Rights movement in
the USA. He had given great support to the year-long bus boycott in
Alabama, which eventually led to the desegregation of public
transportation; he had used his skills as a passionate orator to
inspire black people to
stand up for their rights, in housing, education and other civil
rights; and he had gained the backing
of a growing number of whites. He was in the front line of the
demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, which probably did more
than any other protest to further the cause of civil rights.
During his brief presidency from 1960
to 1963, Kennedy paved the way for a Civil Rights Act,
which would officially ban race-based segregation throughout the USA.
Kennedy was gunned down before he had time to put the act through
Lyndon Johnson completed the job, and by the end of 1964, the Civil
Act was law, and Martin Luther King had won the Nobel Prize for Peace.
Racism, however, had not disappeared. More laws, including the 1968 Civil Rights Act, were needed to fully eradicate
all forms of official racism. But even then, laws could not change the deep-seated bigotry
of many southern whites; the more Civil Rights laws were passed, the more some racist groups felt threatened.
1968 was a crisis year in many countries. The Civil
Rights movement in the USA had more or less merged with the
anti-Vietnam War movement. Black leaders like King were being joined by
gurus of a new generation of educated young white Americans, Bob Dylan
and Joan Baez. At the same time, in the black ghettoes of the rustbelt
cities, a new and more aggressive movement had emerged: Black Power.
In the opinion of some observers, America was slowly
sliding towards civil unrest on a large scale.
Though King, with his non-violence, was no supporter of civil conflict,
he was the no.1 figurehead of black America. Hence the conspiracy
According to the theory, King was
assassinated by the government (whoever that may have been) to prevent
the USA from severe civil conflict. A week before King was
assassinated, a peaceful march in Memphis had been provoked into
violence by a gang called "the Invaders". Nobody knows who was behind
the Invaders - but someone
James Earl Ray admitted that he was involved in the
assassination of King, but claimed that he was part of a plot, the dumb
guy who was used by others who tricked him into it. He claimed
that the gun that killed King was actually fired by a man called
"Raoul" - but who Raoul was no one knows. Dexter King, who has studied
events surrounding his father's death in the minutest detail, now
believes that Ray was
telling the truth.
In July 1997, a judge in Memphis
that new scientific tests suggest that it was not Ray's gun that fired
the bullet that killed King.
So if it was "Raoul", not Ray, that
really assassinated Martin Luther King, why did he do it, and on whose
orders? Was it the CIA, or some other secret organization, nervous
rising black militantism and opposition to the Vietnam war? Or was
by some secret white supremacist organisation?
Maybe we will know one day, maybe
, gunshot, sound of a gun being shot
- retracted :
withdrew, denied, took back - release :
liberation, freedom, - get
kill - backing
help - act :
people with narrow and fixed ideas, extremism - rustbelt
Rustbelt is the part of the USA (from Chicago to Virginia) where old
heavy industries have gone into decline -
Related text : Rosa Parks and
the Montgomery bus boycott
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Who killed Martin Luther King ?
the best equivalent
of the following words used in the article:
to further : to promote, to stop,
fast, slowly, in an excited manner
behind bars : drinking, working in a pub, in prison
paved the way: seriously opposed, prepared, did nothing about
hence: next, this explains, here
Why did more and more people call for the release of James
Why do some people believe King was assassinated by the CIA?
listening to (or
reading) the article, students should replace the verbs and participles
in this extract in the correct form.
night of April 4th
1968, someone (wait) _______________ opposite the windows of the
Motel, in downtown Memphis.
of the motel, a
big white Cadillac (park) ______________;
it (be) _____ the car in which the Rev. Martin Luther King (drive
_____________________, as he (travel) _________________ through the
states, (speak) ___________ to audiences in towns and cities,
the cause of non-violence and civil rights.
out onto the balcony, (take)
________ a breath of fresh air after (eat) ___________ his dinner,
(ring) __________ out. The civil rights leader and Nobel-prizewinner,
manwho (preach) _____________
non-violence, (fall) _______ to the ground, fatally
(wound)_____________. Within minutes, he (be) ________ dead.
like wildfire round the USA;
the man who (do) ___________ more, perhaps, than any other (further)
the rights of Black people in
the USA, (assassinate) _______________,
(seem) ____________ , by a lone sniper, a white extremist. Weeks later
a man by the name of James Earl
Ray (arrest)________________ and (sentence) _____________ to 99 years
prison for the assassination.
that really what (happen)
James Earl Ray initially
(confess)___________ to (kill) _________ King, it
was not long before he (retract) ____________ his statement; and to
day, there are those who (not believe) _________________ that Ray (be)
___________ actually guilty of the crime for which he ( spend)
almost 30 years behind bars.
the calls for Ray's
release (grow) ___________________ stronger by the year, to the point
even Dexter King, Martin Luther King's son, now (believe)
that Ray was not his father's assassin.
language points are particularly in evidence in this text; (a) tense
and (b) prepositions.
As far as tenses are
concerned, pay particular attention
to the different forms of past tense,
preterite, present perfect and pluperfect.
particular, note the uses of the pluperfect, which in English is only
used to put one past event further into the past than another past
that is being mentioned. For example:
news spread (that) the man who had done..... had been assassinated....
how the original news was reported. (The man who has done.... has
Using information from the article,
imagine how the news of Martin Luther King's assassination was reported
in the press next day.
work) In pairs, students should script and act out an imaginary
between the owner of the motel and a local journalist on the day
of this resource is permitted
classroom use. In
schools declaring the source of copied materials to a national
copyright agency, Linguapress intermediate level resources
should be attributed to "Spectrum" as the source and "Linguapresss
: en cas de déclaration CFEDC par
l'établissement, document à attribuer
à "Spectrum", éditeur "Linguapress"..