Cover image for An act of state : the execution of Martin Luther King
An act of state : the execution of Martin Luther King
Pepper, William, 1937-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
London ; New York : Verso, 2003.
Physical Description:
ix, 334 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, map ; 21 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
E185.97.K5 P45 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E185.97.K5 P45 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ
E185.97.K5 P45 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E185.97.K5 P45 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Martin Luther King Jr was the most powerful and eloquent champion of the poor and oppressed in US history, and at the height of his fame in the mid-sixties seemed to offer the real possibility of a new and radical beginning for liberal politics in the USA. In 1968, he was assassinated; the movement for social and economic change has never recovered. The conviction of James Earl Ray for his murder has never looked even remotely safe, and when William Pepper began to investigate the case it was the start of a twenty-five year campaign for justice. At a civil trial in 1999, supported by the King family, seventy witnesses under oath set out the details of the conspiracy Pepper had unearthed- the jury took just one hour to find that Ray was not responsible for the assassination, that a wide-ranging conspiracy existed, and that government agents were involved. An Act of State lays out the extraordinary facts of the King story of the huge groundswell of optimism engendered by his charismatic radicalism, of how plans for his execution were laid at the very heart of government and the military, of the disinformation and media cover-ups that followed every attempt to search out the truth. As shocking as it is tragic, An Act of State remains the most compelling and authoritative account of how King s challenge to the US establishment led inexorably to his murder.

Author Notes

Authors Bio, not available

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

In 1978, Pepper began investigating the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. In this absorbing and detailed book, Pepper maintains that James Earl Ray was not the assassin. Instead, Pepper's investigation points to a conspiracy by the U.S. government and its military and intelligence organizations to silence King's growing criticism of the Vietnam War and his anti-poverty campaign. In part one, Pepper focuses on his early investigative efforts, including interviews with several witnesses to King's murder. Pepper also details his efforts to get a new trial for convicted assassin James Ray, and the cooperation by the King family in that effort. Part two details the 1999 trial, several years after Ray's death, and new testimony and forensic evidence pointing to government involvement in the assassination and cover-up. Pepper roundly criticizes the U.S. media for its lack of coverage of the trial; he also takes to task the 1998 report by the U.S. Attorney General, an investigation undertaken by the Clinton administration in lieu of the independent investigation requested by Pepper and the King family. Pepper also explores the promise for social change represented by King's aborted anti-war and anti-poverty campaigns. Readers--particularly conspiracy buffs--interested in the details surrounding the King assassination will enjoy this passionate, disturbing, and well-researched book. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

Forget everything you think you know, Pepper insists. James Earl Ray did not pull the trigger. The journalist-turned-lawyer's previous title, Orders to Kill: The Truth Behind the Murder of Martin Luther King Jr., was more a prelude to this title than the final word. Twenty years after James Earl Ray was convicted, Pepper set out to clear him; in the process, he brought to light reams of evidence that were ignored in the original trial. The key to his case is Loyd Jowers, a bar owner who claims to have disposed of the murder weapon at the request of a local mob figure. Partially on the strength of the Orders to Kill material, Pepper won the support of King's wife and children, who brought Jowers and "unknown co-conspirators" to trial in a civil wrongful death suit in 1999. Dozens of witnesses contributed to a forceful, detailed case that accused the FBI, the CIA, the U.S. military, the Memphis police, and local and national organized crime leaders. After only an hour of deliberation, the jury found for the King family. The accusers, led by Pepper, cried vindication and fully expected to be at the center of one of the biggest news stories of the century. But the trial and the verdict barely registered in the media. Appalled by the silence that followed, Pepper remained determined to bring the details of his exhaustive probe and subsequent civil case to the public, and the result is this exacting book, dense with evidence and analysis of the murder. Pepper sets the tone by recalling the state of civil unrest in this country during the late 1960s and why King's radical activism was such a threat to government and corporate leaders. Simply put, Pepper claims those in power were scared to death of the mass mobilization King's Poor People's Campaign might have inspired. Pepper gradually introduces the vast cast of characters in a dizzying murder conspiracy that winds from a Memphis bar through the shadows of organized crime to the far reaches of national government. He carefully maps each player's place and role in the tangled web and doggedly tries to stick to a straightforward narrative. The number of unanswered questions complicates those efforts, but does not cloud the evidence that Ray was not the shooter. Pepper attempts nothing less than a rewrite of history, and a spurring of further investigation. While his moralizing epilogue on the deterioration of democracy is distracting, it is heartfelt, and honors Pepper's commitment to King's legacy. (Jan. 20) Forecast: With a release timed to coincide with King's birthday and with Black History Month, this embargoed book will find its way onto display tables and hook browsers. Reviews in political weeklies that reassess the trial and evidence could lead to further print coverage, as could the Trent Lott scandal aftermath. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

According to the author, James Earl Ray was neither a racist nor a violent man capable of murdering Martin Luther King. Instead, Ray, who later recanted his admission of guilt, was merely a patsy in a complex plot that included the U.S. government, the Tennessee state government, the Memphis police department, and the U.S. Army working with the Mafia. Pepper (Orders To Kill: The Truth Behind the Murder of Martin Luther King) served as James Earl Ray's attorney at the time of Ray's death in 1998. The Ray case, reopened in 1999 at the request of the King family, ended in a verdict that recognized a conspiracy beyond Ray but did not conclude that Ray was innocent. Pepper does present some plausible scenarios of the King assassination and its aftermath that he bases on the testimony of many witnesses, but his writing is repetitive and mired in turgid detail. Much of the book is a polemic against Gerald Posner's Killing the Dream: James Earl Ray and the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., which makes the case for Ray as the lone gunman. Libraries that own Posner may want to add Pepper's account for balance. Readers will have to choose which theory they believe, with no middle ground found in either book.-Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

With both the Lincoln and the Kennedy assassinations, alternative theories of the crime developed almost immediately, leading to a spate of books pointing to a variety of conspiracy theories for each assassination. In most instances, the evidence does not stand up to rigorous scrutiny. Although the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., is different, this work is similar to dozens of other books in that it argues that the "official" record of the event is in error, and that the US government, in collusion with the media, covered up the truth. Pepper, a lawyer and self-professed friend and confidant of Martin Luther King, Jr., lays out an intricate conspiracy indicating James Earl Ray's innocence and suggesting that others conspired to eliminate King. The conspiracy exists because Ray, like John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald before him, never had a trial, which precluded the opportunity for a full and public disclosure of the events. Whether or not James Earl Ray assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr., is not the issue; Pepper's total lack of documentation makes this book worthless. ^BSumming Up: Not recommended. D. R. Jamieson Ashland University