Chasing Zorro

Insight into the assassination of Martin Luther King

Gregg Reese | 1/12/2006, 2:02 p.m.
April 4, 1967, was a milestone in the public life...

April 4, 1967, was a milestone in the public life

of Martin Luther King. Heretofore, he had been

known primarily as a civil rights activist, but today

he was making a departure from his previous ideological

doctrine. Today in New York’s historical

Riverside Church he was going to come out publicly

against the Vietnam War. King had made public

utterances against the conflict before, taking care not

to alienate his supporters in the white community,

but today the war and its moral ramifications would

be the main focus of his address (hence its title

“Beyond Vietnam”) before over 3,000 parishioners

in one of the foremost black churches in the United


For Dr. King, it was part of a logical progression.

The conflict in a strange, little country few

even knew existed resonated mightily within the core

of his being, since increasingly larger numbers of

those designated for combat in that far off corner of

the world were young Negro boys, as they were

called by polite society back then, and many of those

close to him, especially his wife, Coretta Scott King,

were urging him to become more vocal. More

importantly, he may have reached a point where, as a

man of the cloth, he realized his allegiance to the

world at large as opposed to one specific church congregation

or ethnic group.

Finally, President Lyndon Johnson, normally an

ardent proponent of civil rights, took steps to divert

funds from the War on Poverty to Vietnam in

December of 1966, which forced the Baptist preacher

to question the rationale of taking “young black

men who have been crippled by our society and

sending them 8,000 miles away to guarantee liberties

in Southeast Asia which they had not found in

Southwest Georgia and East Harlem.”

J. Edgar Hoover enjoyed a position of power

equaled by few men in the history of U.S. politics.

Serving under eight American presidents, more than

one of his “superiors” suppressed the urge to have

him fired no doubt because of the political backlash

and retaliation that was sure to follow. During his

almost 50-year tenure at the helm of the F.B.I., he

amassed vast dossiers on potential enemies in the

government and political arena and beyond, specializing

in the sort of inflammatory information they

would go to great lengths to keep covered.

A man given to many pet peeves, the foremost

of which was subversion, he was known for his

relentless pursuit of those (in his view) who constituted

a threat to the security of the government.

During the course of his career they’d included leftist

radicals in the aftermath of World War I, bank robbers

and bootleggers during the Depression, Nazi

saboteurs in World War II, and communist sympathizers

during the 1950s.

Now, deep in the turbulence of the ‘60s, he

faced his biggest challenge. Radical elements

seemed to be sprouting up on every college campus

to openly exhibit contempt for American ideals and

institutions, and sweeping up the best and brightest

of the Baby-boomer generation in the process. Of