House Select Committee on Assassinations
Investigation of the Assassination of
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Volume 1, pp. 1-39
of Martin Luther King, Jr.
MONDAY, AUGUST 14, 1978
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
SELECT COMMITTEE ON ASSASSINATIONS
The committee met at 9:06 a.m., pursuant to notice, in room 2172, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Louis Stokes (chairman of the committee) presiding.
Present: Representatives Stokes, Preyer, Fauntroy, Burke, Dodd, Ford, Fithian, Edgar, Devine, McKinney and Sawyer.
Also present: G. Robert Blakey, chief counsel and staff director; Edward Evans, chief investigator; Michael C. Eberhardt, assistant deputy chief counsel; Gene R. Johnson, deputy chief counsel; I. Charles Mathews, special counsel; Elizabeth L. Berning, chief clerk.
Chairman STOKES. A quorum being present, the committee will come to order.
This morning, the Subcommittee on Assassinations begins its public hearings. The committee's mandate, Resolution 222, which authorized a full and complete investigation of the assassinations of President Kennedy and Dr. King to make two determinations:
First: Are existing U.S. laws, those related to the safety and protection of the President, the deprivation of civil rights, related conspiracies, as well as the investigatory jurisdiction of U.S. Government agencies, adequate?
Second: Did U.S. departments and agencies fully disclose and share information and evidence in the course of prior investigations of the deaths of President Kennedy and Dr. King? If not, is there information not in the hands of a given Government agency that would have assisted in its investigation of the assassinations? Why was the information not forwarded to the appropriate agencies?
The committee has identified three main issues to investigate in order to fulfill its legislative mandate.
First: Who assassinated President Kennedy and Dr. King?
Second: Did the assassin or assassins have assistance; was there a conspiracy?
Third: Did Federal agencies perform adequately in the sharing of information prior to the assassinations, in the protection of President Kennedy and Dr. King and in their investigations of the assassinations?
In addressing these issues, the committee has made every effort to be fair and objective. To begin with, we regard each of them to be equal in importance to the others. We are not, for example, more in-
terested in conspiracy theories than in a balanced evaluation of agency performance.
Moreover, while it is true that individual members of the committee may have reached some preliminary judgments on certain issues after many months of studying them, we are suspending judgment as a committee until all the evidence is in. Nothing else would be fair.
That brings me to a very important part of our assignment: We must, in the end, report our recommendations to the House of Representatives and to the American public. For this purpose, we have set aside a period in December to weigh the evidence in both the Kennedy case and the King case. Only then will we be ready to reach conclusions, make them public and propose new legislation if we deem it appropriate.
This week, we will begin the King hearings. In September, we will begin and finish the Kennedy hearings. In November, we will return to, and finish, the King hearings.
To meet its objectives, this committee and its staff have labored long and hard. Hundreds of volumes of agency files have been carefully scrutinized, thousands of witnesses have been interviewed and sworn testimony has been taken from many of them, even some who were unwilling to cooperate, and physical evidence has been minutely examined with sophisticated equipment and techniques.
I can say with confidence that each member of the committee has done his homework, though it has been necessary, in view of the enormous body of evidence before us, to ask each member to specialize -- that is, to concentrate on certain prescribed areas of the investigations.
The public hearings that we begin today are designed to present the evidence the investigation has developed to Congress and to the American people. The form of the hearings will constitute a staff presentation to the committee of evidence bearing on the key issues in each assassination. These hearings, and our public meetings in December, will be, in effect, part of our final report.
Another part, a final written version, will be submitted when our work is fully done at the end of December. The hearings are also to be a forum for the purpose of assessing the credibility of the evidence, and if in the process new leads are uncovered, we are prepared to pursue them also.
Today, and the rest of the week, the committee's attention will be directed to some of the facts and circumstances surrounding the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The general subjects we will address are: (1) The assassination in Memphis on April 4, 1968 in the context of what Dr. King meant to this country; and (2) the involvement in the assassination, if any, of James Earl Ray.
To begin the first phase of our hearings, I would like to present Congressman Walter Fauntroy, the distinguished Congressman from the District of Columbia who, as chairman of the King assassination subcommittee, has worked unceasingly to meet the mandate that the Congress has charged us with.
It is my pleasure at this time to recognize my esteemed colleague, the gentleman from the District of Columbia.
Mr. FAUNTROY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.
The evidence that is about to be presented to this committee and to the American people was assembled by the King subcommittee of our
Select Committee on Assassinations. In addition to myself, we have had the dedicated participation of the membership of the distinguished gentleman from Connecticut, Mr. Stewart B. McKinney, the distinguished gentleman from Tennessee, Mr. Harold Ford, the distinguished gentleman from Indiana, Mr. Floyd Fithian, and the distinguished gentleman from Pennsylvania, Mr. Robert Edgar.
In addition, several members of the full committee have joined in our inquiries, including yourself, Mr. Chairman, of course, the ranking minority member of the committee, Mr. Devine and Mr. Harold Sawyer. We have had the very reliable assistance, Mr. Chairman, of a very dedicated staff task force on the King investigation, composed of some 31 attorneys, investigators, and researchers.
To give you an idea of the extent of our investigative effort, I would like to refer to an imposing 284 page work plan. While much of its substantive content is still confidential, I can say this much about our work plan.
First, it adheres strictly, Mr. Chairman, to the main issues that you have identified for our inquiry -- three of them. First, who assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr.? Second, was the assassin assisted by anyone? And, third, how well did the Federal agencies perform with respect to the heinous crime, both before and after the assassination?
I can say, also, that the work plan is comprehensive and thorough. For example, it directs our work in investigating every important conspiracy allegation that has ever been raised with respect to this case, and there were 21 of them in all.
Assuming that every question that this work plan raises is answered, we will be assured that we have a complete and point-by-point inquiry that leaves virtually no stone unturned.
It was necessary, Mr. Chairman, for the subcommittee and the staff to travel far and wide to fulfill its assignment. As a case in point, the subcommittee members or investigators, for example, went to every city that James Earl Ray is known to have visited during the period of his being a fugitive, both before and after the assassination.
This included trips to foreign countries, to Canada, to Mexico, to Portugal, to Great Britain. In all, the subcommittee task force made 487 trips to 714 geographic points, over 2,272 days of travel.
We also gathered evidence through the testimony of witnesses at hearings. In keeping with our policy that the investigation be carried out in secret to protect the witnesses and the integrity of the evidence we were gathering, those hearings have been held in executive session. We had, to date, 34 such hearings, at which 75 witnesses have given testimony and on 41 occasions, orders of immunity have been obtained from the Federal courts so that witnesses could testify with candor.
We have also looked, Mr. Chairman, at agency files. The staff has reviewed over 360 files, files from the FBI, from the Drug Enforcement Administration, from Immigration and Naturalization, and other services. But that figure, quite frankly, does not tell the whole story, since a file can range from a few pages to literally thousands of pages.
The FBI file on the murder of Dr. King, for example, consists of some 93 volumes that contain over 6,000 serials and exhibits.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, the subcommittee employed several expert consultants. This was appropriate because many of the areas of the investigation required highly specialized expertise. To analyze the au-
topsy of Dr. King, for example, we called upon the top forensic pathologist in the United States. We will hear the results of their examinations when we reconvene here tomorrow.
To study the ballistics evidence, the rifle believed to have been used in the assassination, as well as bullets and cartridge cases, we resorted to the expert knowledge of highly qualified firearms analysts, men who are employed by outstanding police departments around the country.
In all, Mr. Chairman, there were 17 consultants placed under contract in such diverse fields as photography, medical illustration, handwriting and polygraph analysis.
So, as you can see, this has been a broad but concentrated effort, though I realize that the real tests will come as we assess the quality of the evidence that we have gathered.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, let me again emphasize the seriousness with which the members of this committee have undertaken this inquiry. We believe that it can serve at least two valuable purposes. First, it can serve to restore, I think, the confidence of the American people in our Government. That confidence, since the assassination of Dr. King in Memphis in 1968, has been shaken at points. The American people want to know that their Government is telling them the whole truth. If the confessed assassin did, in fact, kill Dr. King, the American people want to know that.
If, on the other hand, there were those who conspired to take the life of Dr. King, it is important that we establish that, if for no other purpose, than to serve notice on any who would assassinate any present or future leaders that the intelligence agencies of this Government will not be lax and that they will not find convenient loopholes through which to slip undetected.
Martin Luther King, Jr. used to say that truth crushed to earth will rise again. We are making a serious effort to establish what, in fact, was the truth. If there has been truth that has been crushed to the earth, we are determined to preside over the resurrection of that truth.
Chairman STOKES. Thank you very much, Mr. Fauntroy. Let me commend you and the members of your subcommittee whom I personally know worked untiringly and unceasingly in order to try and provide, not only to this committee but to the House and to the American public, the facts and circumstances as you have uncovered them. Each of you are to be commended for an excellent job and commitment that you have had.
I would like, at this time, to recognize my colleague, the ranking minority member of this committee who has devoted many, many hours of time to both full committee and subcommittee work and has done so with a type of commitment that has been a real source of comfort to me as chairman of the full committee.
We have had the privilege of working together in a completely non-partisan manner, and I have been extremely impressed with the kind of devotion and commitment and dedication this gentleman has devoted to this enormously important task.
It is my pleasure at this time to recognize the distinguished gentleman from Ohio, Mr. Devine.
Mr. DEVINE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate your most generous comments.
My remarks will be quite brief so that we can get on with the hearing. Just as a footnote, as the ranking minority member of this select committee, I would like to emphasize how totally nonpartisan this investigation has been. I would go so far as to say it has been absolutely nonpolitical, as it should be, in light of the complexity of the task assigned to us by Congress. You may note, Mr. Chairman, of how we have made every effort to be fair and objective, and in this, I heartily agree, but I would add another bit of description to our work, this has been a completely impartial investigation.
It has been my experience that every member of the committee and the staff has gone about their assignments with but one goal in mind, and that is to learn the truth. This is not to say that the committee has not, at times, been involved in controversy, as anyone with a memory that goes back some 17 months would recall. For over 1 year now, the committee has been quietly and professionally doing its job, notwithstanding that from the outside there have been some that would be opportunists and others that would perhaps exploit not only the assassination situation, but also, the work of this committee.
Though we have not been without our critics, I think in the end, once the American people have had the opportunity to review the evidence we will present, they will be convinced that this committee performed a credible and professional job on behalf of all Americans and in total response to the mandate given to us by the Congress.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman STOKES. Thank you, Mr. Devine.
At this time, in order to effectuate the presentation of the evidence to this committee, I want to recognize, for purposes of presentation, the general counsel of this committee and staff director, Prof. G. Robert Blakey. Mr. Blakey.
Mr. BLAKEY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
As the committee begins its public hearings, it seems appropriate to reflect for a moment on the meaning of the life, and the death, of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for the ultimate issue this committee must face is were they, his life and his death, isolated one from another.
The bullet that smashed into Dr. King on April 4, 1968, opened a wound in our society that will never heal completely. His death foreshadowed the seeming end of a period of civil rights progress that Dr. King had led and for which his life had become a symbol.
Dr. King's legacy has been profound change in our social fabric -- to the advantage of Blacks, as well as all Americans.
But after his death, as a Washington Post writer put it, "***his army of conscience disbanded, the banners fell, the movement unraveled***."
Dr. King's life, too, must be placed in a wider context. It would be a mistake, unfortunately, to regard this tragic event in Memphis in 1968 as an aberration. Civil rights violence in this country dates back at least to the 18th century, when bands of runaway slaves began mounting attacks on plantations, igniting fears by the 1790's of a general slave uprising.
This violence did not end with America's first struggle for freedom in the Revolution of 1776. By the 1850's, feeling once again was running high over the issue that was soon to tear the Union itself asunder. The pillaging and burning of Lawrence, Kans., by proslavers
in 1856, led abolitionist John Brown to launch a bloody retaliatory raid on Pottawatamie, Kans.
It was after the end of the Civil War and emancipation, however, that the most brutal assaults occurred, as a wave of murders swept the South. In the postwar decade, some 3,500 civil rights advocates were slain, 1,884 of them in 1868 alone. Indeed, violent outbreaks were commonplace.
When Blacks appealed for their right in Memphis in 1866, 47 of them were massacred by rioting white terrorists.
Whites in New Orleans attacked the Louisiana State Convention of 1866, killing 27 Black delegates.
Of 16 Blacks elected as delegates to the Mississippi Constitutional Convention in 1868, two were assassinated by whites.
In the Alabama campaign of 1870, four Black civil rights leaders were murdered when they attended a Republican rally.
In the Mississippi campaign of 1874, several Black leaders in Vicksburg were attacked and murdered by the Ku Klux Klan.
In Louisiana, in the election of 1878, Klan gunmen fired on Blacks standing at the polls in Caddo Parish, killing 40, by one account, 75 according to another.
Systematic violence, designed to cow Blacks asserting their right to vote, led Attorney General Alphonso Taft to declare in 1876: "It is the fixed and desperate purpose of the Democratic Party in the South that the Negroes shall not vote and murder is a common means of intimidation to prevent them."
In the 1890's the legislatures of all Southern States disfranchised Black citizens. The then Supreme Court not only failed to intervene, but in the case of Giles v. Harris in 1903, it officially sanctioned the practice. As the Black vote disappeared in the South, it is understandable that the murder of civil rights leaders decreased dramatically, only to be replaced by two other forms of white terrorism: riots and lynchings.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was founded in 1909 to deal with them -- at the expense of further assertion of Black political power.
The NAACP remained the leading civil rights organization for the first half of the 20th century. Its primary role was to offer legal counsel to Blacks whose rights had been denied. In 1942, the Congress of Racial Equality was founded. For the most part, it sponsored sit-ins of segregated facilities.
Nevertheless, there were signs of progress in the 1940's. A resurgent civil rights movement was beginning to develop. The Supreme Court, a new Supreme Court, prohibited all-white primary elections, declared unconstitutional restrictive real estate covenants, and ordered an end to segregation of interstate passengers.
In 1947, President Truman's Committee on Civil Rights recommended the enactment of fair employment legislation. In 1948, President Truman abolished segregation in the Armed Forces and in Government agencies.
The civil rights movement of our time set its roots, its deep roots, in the field of education, with a hefty assist from a monumental Supreme Court decision. On May 17, 1954, after a long struggle through the courts by Blacks, in Brown v. Board of Education, the Court an-
nounced its ruling that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. But the decision was only the beginning of a long struggle, for it was not easily accepted in the South.
Indeed, many historians believe the real beginning of the new Black revolt against inequality was marked in Montgomery, Ala., on December 1, 1955. When four Black passengers were asked by the driver of a downtown bus to give up their seats, Mrs. Rosa Parks refused and was arrested. In protest, Black leaders organized a boycott that lasted for 382 days. It ended when the courts ordered buses integrated.
The bus boycott was guided by the words of a 27-year-old Black Baptist minister, who emerged from it as a fresh and dynamic force among American Blacks. Preaching "the Christian doctrine of love and operating through the Ghandian method of nonviolence", Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., represented a new leadership. And he had shown in Montgomery that he knew how to use direct action to achieve justice.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference was formed in early 1957 with Dr. King as its president. Adopting a nonviolent approach, SCLC was dedicated to the integration of Black Americans in all aspects of American life.
In May 1957, addressing the first major Black demonstration in Washington since World War II, Dr. King returned to a theme that had lain dormant for 60 years, the right to vote. "Give us the ballot," he pleaded, "and we will no longer have to worry the Federal Government about our basic rights."
He was on his way to becoming one of the most influential Black leaders of his time, a symbol of the hope for equality for all Americans.
It was a time of fast-moving events, actions, and counteractions in a continuing conflict.
On September 9, President Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Act of 1957, a law that markedly enlarged the Federal role in race relations. It established a Civil Rights Commission and a Civil Rights Division in the Justice Department. Most important, it gave the Attorney General authority to seek injunctions against obstruction of voting rights. That same month, in Little Rock, Ark., violent rioting erupted over the integration of Central High. Nine Black students were successfully enrolled, but not before 1,000 paratroopers and 10,000 National Guardsmen were sent in. The price of progress was a polarization of southern attitudes and those elsewhere.
The year of 1960 was a year of sit-ins. They began February 1 in Greensboro, N.C., spreading rapidly to cities in Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, and Florida. By the end of the year, Blacks were being served at lunch counters in hundreds of southern stores. Again, there was white resistance. As the sit-ins set the pace of a campaign to open up public facilities of all sorts, there were thousands of arrests and occasional outbreaks of violence.
Violence was more than occasional in 1961, the year of the freedom rides. They began in May when members of CORE boarded two buses in Washington and set out for New Orleans, intending to test segregation laws on the buses as well as in the terminals en route. Trouble broke out in Alabama. The demonstrators were attacked and beaten in Anniston and Birmingham. One bus was stoned and burned.
When another group of students left Atlanta to ride to Montgomery the following week, Attorney General Kennedy sent 500 Federal marshals to protect them. The students, unfortunately, arrived before the marshals, however, and they were severely beaten.
The next evening, an angry mob surrounded a church where Dr. King was to speak. The marshals and federalized National Guardsmen had to escort the congregation home. The freedom riders met with little violence in Mississippi, though they had to reckon with a legal system that gave them little leeway. Over 300 demonstrators were arrested for breach of the peace and for disobeying police orders to disperse in segregated terminals.
Reaction in Washington to the attacks on the freedom riders was swift. Attorney General Kennedy petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission which on September 22 adopted rules banning segregation on interstate buses and in terminals.
Across-the-board desegregation of Albany, Ga., was the focus of civil rights efforts led by Dr. King in the summer of 1962. The city reacted by arresting 1,100 demonstrators, including Dr. King and his colleague, the Reverend Ralph Abernathy. The Albany campaign received national attention, but it failed to crack southern resistance symbolized by the city.
This was not the case in the fall of 1962 in Oxford, Miss., site of the all-white University of Mississippi. James Meredith, an Air Force veteran, had been enrolled at Jackson State College when he decided to seek a transfer to Ole Miss. When he was rejected, Meredith filed suit. After 16 months of litigation, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that he had been turned down solely because of his race and ordered that he be accepted.
Outright obstruction by State officials led the court to order that the Governor and Lieutenant Governor pay daily fines unless they stopped interfering with its ruling.
On October 1, 320 Federal marshals arrived at Oxford to escort Meredith to his dormitory, setting off a riot in which 2 persons were killed, 375 injured, before it was quelled by the presence of Federal troops. When the tear gas had cleared, Meredith was the first Black student to enter Ole Miss.
An all-out attack was launched in the spring of 1963 on segregation in Birmingham, Ala., called by Dr. King "the most segregated city in the United States." Civil rights activities sought removal of racial restrictions in downtown snack bars, restrooms, and stores, as well as nonracial hiring practices and the formation of a biracial committee to negotiate further integration. Sit-ins, picket lines, and parades were met with hundreds of arrests on charges of demonstrating without a permit, loitering, and trespassing. But as each effort was blocked, a larger one loomed in its place.
On Good Friday, Dr. King, along with Ralph Abernathy and Fred Shuttlesworth, was arrested, but the demonstrations continued. On May 2, 2,500 Blacks, most of them high school students, were arrested. On May 3, one group of demonstrators was bombarded by bottles, while another was met by Police Commissioner Bull Conner with his dogs and fire hoses.
Publication of pictures of police tactics in Birmingham led to a worldwide outcry and negotiations with the city followed in which Dr.
King agreed to suspend the campaign on May 8. But two dynamite blasts 3 days later sent thousands of Blacks back to the streets. When calm was restored, Dr. King was viewed as having triumphed due to the vast media attention he had attracted.
One by one, lunchcounters and other public facilities were open to Blacks.
Birmingham became a rallying cry for antisegregationist activities in hundreds of cities in the summer of 1963. Marches were held in Selma, Ala.; Albany, Ga.; Cambridge, Md.; Raleigh and Greensboro, N.C.; Nashville and Clinton, Tenn.; Shreveport, La.; Jackson and Philadelphia, Miss., as well as in New York and Chicago. It was also a period of tragedy. In June, Medgar Evers, NAACP field secretary in Mississippi, was murdered, and in September the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham was bombed, killing four Black girls attending Sunday school.
A climatic point in the campaign for Black equality came on August 28, 1963, when over 200,000 demonstrators assembled in Washington for a march from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. Dr. King's address was acclaimed as the most memorable moment of the day. He said:
I have a dream that one day this Nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal."
The civil rights movement of this century has passed through three phases, each distinct in character, though they have overlapped in time. The first, desegregation, was an effort to break down the barriers of an old and corrupt social order. The second, integration, was concentrated on the opening up of opportunities -- as in the case of the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which guaranteed Blacks the right to vote, guaranteed access to public accommodations, authorized the Federal Government to sue to desegregate public facilities and schools, mandated nondiscrimination in Federal programs and required equal employment opportunity. The third, a quest for world peace and an end to economic injustice, not only for Blacks, but for all the Nation's poor, was uppermost in Dr. King's mind in 1968 at the time of his death. It was exhibited by his staunch opposition to the war in Vietnam and by his preoccupation with the poor people's march to Washington.
In this last quest, Dr. King seemingly was questioning the social order of the country. For this, perhaps, he made more enemies than for his activism in the cause of civil rights. His life and its steady movement toward freedom, justice, equality and peace pose difficult, terribly difficult questions, going to the reasons for his death. These causes and others were interred, for many, with his body at the memorial gravesight in Atlanta. Was his death then unrelated to his life, a senseless act, or did it, like his life, have meaning? It is to this question that this committee, the House, and the American public must now turn in these hearings.
Mr. Chairman, the witness we are now about to call, with your permission, is Dr. Ralph Abernathy. Dr. Abernathy was a close associate and personal friend of Dr. King. He is presently pastor of the West Hunter Street Baptist Church in Atlanta. He was formerly financial secretary-treasurer of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
and later elected vice president at large of SCLC and the designated successor of Dr. King. When Dr. King was assassinated, Dr. Abernathy became president of SCLC.
Mr. Chairman, it would be appropriate to call Dr. Abernathy.
Chairman STOKES. Thank you. The committee now calls Dr. Abernathy.
Would the witness please stand and be sworn?
Dr. Abernathy, do you solemnly swear that the testimony you will give before this committee is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
Dr. ABERNATHY. I do.
Chairman STOKES. Thank you. You may be seated. And on behalf of the committee, Dr. Abernathy, it is indeed a pleasure and an honor to welcome you here this morning and to receive your testimony. For purposes of that testimony, the committee now recognizes Mr. Charles Mathews, special counsel to the committee.
Mr. MATHEWS. Good morning, Dr. Abernathy, welcome.
Testimony of Dr. Ralph Abernathy
Dr. ABERNATHY. Good morning, Mr. Mathews, and members of the committee, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. MATHEWS. Dr. Abernathy, how long have you been associated with the SCLC?
Dr. ABERNATHY. I have been associated with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference since its inception, and that was in January 1957.
Mr. MATHEWS. Previous to that, were you also associated with the Montgomery Improvement Association?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Yes; I organized the Montgomery Improvement Association on December 2, 1955.
Mr. MATHEWS. What was the purpose of both those organizations, that is, the Montgomery Improvement Association, and SCLC, which followed?
Dr. ABERNATHY. The purpose of the Montgomery Improvement Association was to integrate the buses of Montgomery, the capital of the great State of Alabama. As you know, in 1955 and prior thereto, the city buses in Alabama and across the Deep South were segregated. And in Montgomery, we had a system where the first 10 seats on every bus were reserved for white passengers and Black persons could not even occupy these seats on a temporary basis. Several Black women had been arrested and brutalized and mistreated on the buses and finally, on December 1, 1955, Mrs. Parks, Rosa Parks, was arrested; and the next morning, on the second, Mr. E.D. Nixon informed me of this arrest and asked me if I would not do something about the situation, and I called together the Black pastors and leaders of the city of Montgomery in order that we might organize a bus boycott, that is, to refuse to ride the buses for a 2- or 3-day period, in order that we might gain three things: No. 1, more courtesy on the part of the bus drivers; No. 2, a change in the seating policy, for Blacks beginning in the rear and whites beginning in the front, and wherever the two groups met, of course, this would be the dividing line. And second -- or third -- the employment of Black drivers on predominantly
Black bus routes. However, none of these were granted, and our bus boycott stretched over a period of 381 days in an attempt really to integrate city buses.
However, let me add that in the beginning we were merely seeking an improved form of segregation; that is, if you can have any such things as an improved form of segregation, on the buses.
Mr. MATHEWS. Did there come a time, however, Dr. Abernathy, when that particular stage was completed and you then formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; is that not correct?
Dr. ABERNATHY. That is correct. Our movement spread to other cities, like Tallahassee, Fla.; Birmingham, Ala.; and all across the South, because we were using a new technique, one that had never been tested in America before, and that was nonviolent direct action; and this had been so very, very effective until other communities had adopted it, and we were being called, Dr. King and myself, to come to these various cities, so we decided we would organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Mr. MATHEWS. For what purpose?
Dr. ABERNATHY. For the purpose of redeeming the soul of America through nonviolent means. We gathered in Atlanta, Ga., and, of course, had a preliminary session, and, of course, during that very night my home was bombed and the church that I pastored was dynamited, and this interrupted the proceedings, and I had to return to Montgomery with Dr. King; and we did not complete the organizational process until a month later, which was really in the spring of 1957, in New Orleans, La., for the purpose of redeeming the soul of America, and this encompassed not just the integrating of the buses but dealing with many other problems.
Mr. MATHEWS. You mentioned you and Dr. King. That leads me to another line of questioning. When did you first meet Dr. King?
Dr. ABERNATHY. I met Dr. King first in 1951. I was student at the university studying for a master's degree in sociology, and I heard of this very young, able, gifted, articulate preacher of the gospel, following the style of the Apostle Paul, and I went over one Sunday to hear him preach in the Ebenezer Baptist Church, and I was greatly impressed with him. I met him at the close of the worship service and we exchanged briefly some chat and conversation and, of course, over the summer we had a very brief acquaintance. However, he soon returned to Crozer Theological Seminary, and I completed my work and returned to my alma mater, Alabama State University, where I accepted a teaching position. We did not meet again until the spring of 1955 when Dr. King came to Montgomery to try out, or to preach, an initial sermon at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, a daughter church of the First Baptist Church, which I was pastoring, and, of course, he had the responsibility of bringing along my guest, Dr. Vernon Johns, who was his predecessor, who had formerly pastored the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. He had to bring him to my home because Dr. Johns had hitchhiked a ride to Montgomery with Dr. King and, of course, Dr. King accepted my wife's invitation to have dinner with us, and this was the beginning of a friendship, a very close association, that ended only on April 4, 1968, when he died in my arms in the St. Joseph Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.
Mr. MATHEWS. Dr. Abernathy, your testimony is that you first met Dr. King in 1951. How would you describe your relationship with Dr. King from 1951 through the date of the assassination?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Well, I would describe it as having been one of the closest relationships that has ever existed between two individuals. I think I would have to say that I know of one other friendship, as I study history, that was likened unto ours, and that was the friendship of Jonathan and David. We were the dearest of friends. He said this many times from platforms. In the last speech that he made, he made it very clear by saying that I want the Nation and the world to know that the dearest and closest friend I have in the world is Ralph David Abernathy. I felt the very same way about him. The last meal that he ate in the world, we ate it from the very same platter together. We always shared the room whenever we traveled. We were just inseparable. We were the dearest of friends.
Mr. MATHEWS. Going back again, Dr. Abernathy, from 1955 through 1968, could you describe Dr. King's role in the various stages of the civil rights movement in that period?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Well, I would say that the first stage was a stage in which we sought to do away with the whole evil of an unjust system of segregation in this country, whereby Blacks were denied their constitutional and God-given rights; where they had to ride in the back of the bus; they had to sit in the balcony of the theater; they had to ride up in the front of the train. This contradictory, unjust system, this evil system of segregation manifested itself first in our attempts to destroy it through the Montgomery bus boycott and through the struggle in Birmingham, Ala., which took place in 1963. Once we had solved the question of segregation and we had won the right to ride anywhere we chose to on the buses, to live in hotels and motels of this country, we then moved to another level, and that is to exercise our most basic and democratic right as American citizens: the right to vote; and this was manifested and seen very clearly in the Selma demonstration which culminated in the march from Selma to Montgomery, a 50-mile journey, where several individuals lost their lives, like Mrs. Viola Liuzzo, and Rev. James Reeb and Jimmy Lee Jackson. This would have been, in my estimation, the second stage of the King era, the King campaign. And then I would say that the third era of the King campaign had to do with the whole question of international problems or the peace movement. This is when he exercised a great deal of courage and came out against the ungodly senseless war in Vietnam and made very clear the fact that nations must not lift up sword against nation, the philosophy of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, that followed to its ultimate conclusion, would end up with a blind society and a toothless generation. This, of course, caused a great deal of concern, interest, and made for him a great deal of enemies, for there were those who believed that it was all right for Dr. King to lead a nonviolent protest, to integrate the lunch counters, but they did not believe that he should have a voice in foreign policy or foreign affairs.
The fourth and final stage, Mr. Counselor, in my estimation, as I look back at his life and as I will describe it more clearly in my book in the very near future, has to do with Dr. King's crusade for economic security on the part of Blacks and whites, and is seen very
clearly in his organizing for the poor people's campaign, and in the midst of that organizational process the striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., sent out the Macedonian call for Dr. King to come and give aid and assistance and help in that struggle.
Dr. King realized that it was not enough to eat at lunchcounters, to live in hotels and motels, and yet at the very same time, once you checked in without difficulties, you suffered great difficulties checking out, because you don't have a job, you do not have the income that is necessary, you realize that it was not enough to have the right to vote, to be able to once again send Black men and women to the Congress of the United States, unless that was buttressed by economic power. He realized that it was not enough for men of various nations of the world to coexist and to cease fighting and killing one another, but he felt that the most basic need for Blacks and poor whites in this country was to enjoy the blessings of this land -- and I call it economic security, jobs and income -- because he realized that everybody would not be able to work but that it is the responsibility of the Government to provide adequate income for those who are too old to work, for those who are unable to work, and for those individuals who are too young to work, and for those individuals whom the country, the Nation, does not train or prepare for work. So, I call it jobs and income.
A guaranteed annual income is what I called for before a congressional committee last Wednesday when I was here in Washington.
Mr. MATHEWS. It is fair to say that, when the Memphis sanitation workers' strike started, which occurred in February of 1968, SCLC, Dr. King, and yourself, had already begun to focus on the economic issues of the day; is that correct?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Well, that is correct. We were organizing the poor people's campaign and we really had to interrupt our organizational process.
Mr. MATHEWS. Did Dr. King see the Memphis sanitation workers' strike as an opportunity to put that new stage into effect?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Well, I think that Dr. King's main concern was really at that point to help the poor, because this massive poor people's campaign where we were going to bring the poor, and eventually I did bring the poor, from all across the Nation. Black and white, brown, red and yellow, to Washington, would dramatize the whole situation and we would expose poverty. The man was such a great man, he was such a good man, he was such a sensitive man. When he heard the cries of striking sanitation workers, garbage workers, who could not get a decent wage in Memphis, Tenn., he altered his plans, and finally, we, as a staff in SCLC, decided that we were coming to Washington with a poor people's campaign but we were coming by the way of Memphis, Tenn.: that is, we were going to straighten out Memphis before we dealt with the Nation.
Mr. MATHEWS. Do you recall who invited Dr. King to Memphis the first time, on March 18, 1968, when he gave his speech at the Mason Temple?
Chairman STOKES. Would counsel suspend for a moment?
I am requesting that the photographers who are seated in front of the witness table and who are continuing to take photographs of Dr. Abernathy, to remove themselves from that area. If there are any
further photographs you want of the witness, you have 15 seconds to take them, and then remove yourselves.
The Chair has no objection to your remaining in the room, but we think this testimony is extremely important to the committee and I am sure this is distracting to the witness.
Thank you. You may resume, counsel.
Mr. MATHEWS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Let me repeat my question, Dr. Abernathy.
Do you recall who invited Dr. King to speak in Memphis on March 18, 1968?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Yes; I recall very well. It was Rev. James Lawson, who was then the pastor of the Centenary United Methodist Church and the Rev. Ralph Jackson, the director of the minimum salary department of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. These two ministers along with Rev. Billy Kyles had organized a citizens group to support the striking sanitation workers, and they had brought in several national speakers of prominence, like Mr. Roy Wilkins, Mr. Bayard Rustin, and some others, and finally, they came to that period and moment when they really wanted to bring in the best that we had, one that would really pack and fill the Mason Temple Church of God and Christ building that would seat some 12,000 or 13,000 persons, and, of course, they invited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to come in. As I have already stated, we were in the process of organizing for the poor people's campaign, and, of course, Dr. King went at a great sacrifice to our cause. Realizing that our cause was merely a cause for the betterment of mankind, he decided that he was going to go to Memphis.
Mr. MATHEWS. So his purpose in going on March 18, 1968, was mainly for the purpose of giving a speech in support of the strike; is that correct?
Dr. ABERNATHY. That is correct.
Mr. MATHEWS. Do you recall where Dr. King stayed on his first visit on that date?
Dr. ABERNATHY. I believe it was the Lorraine Motel. We made all of our visits, through Memphis and into Memphis, and all of our stops were at the Lorraine Motel.
Mr. MATHEWS. I am sorry, go ahead.
Dr. ABERNATHY. Yes; because the days of segregation had just come to a close and still you encountered some difficulties in registering at some of the motels and hotels and we felt very much at home at the Lorraine Motel. Much of our work of organizing for the poor people's campaign, counselor, had taken place in the State of Mississippi. The whole idea had been conceived in Mississippi. And the way we were going to Mississippi was to fly into Memphis and then, of course, we would be met and driven down to Marks, Miss. This was a much more direct route than flying into Jackson. As you know, there were very few airports large enough at the time to accommodate the large jets out of Atlanta.
Mr. MATHEWS. Just on the Lorraine Motel point, then it was not unusual for Dr. King or members of SCLC to stay at the Lorraine when they had business in Memphis; is that correct?
Dr. ABERNATHY. That is correct.
Mr. MATHEWS. You had stayed there in the past; is that correct?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Yes; we had a standard room there.
Mr. MATHEWS. Let me see if I can summarize your testimony briefly, Dr. Abernathy. Dr. King was invited to Memphis on March 18, 1968, by Reverend Lawson and other members of the Memphis community group.
He gave a speech that night at the Mason Temple; is that correct?
Dr. ABERNATHY. That's correct.
Mr. MATHEWS. There came a time when he decided to return to Memphis again, not just to give a speech, but to lead a march; is that correct?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Well, it was really to give a speech and to lead a march.
Mr. MATHEWS. Will you describe briefly how that event occurred; that is, the decision to return to Memphis and lead a march on March 22, 1968?
Dr. ABERNATHY. We had really made no definite commitment to Memphis, Tenn.'s striking sanitation workers. Dr. King had been invited merely to speak and, of course, upon the second invitation, we had gotten up as far as New York and New Jersey in organizing for the poor people's campaign and after having had a very, very successful date on that Wednesday, Dr. King did not want to leave New Jersey because he wanted very much to go to Paterson, so he asked that I would go and make the speech on that Wednesday evening at Mason Temple Church. And, of course, he would join me the next morning. He would take a flight out of New York early the next morning and come to Memphis where we would lead the march.
But he would not be present at the rally. So, after some, persuasion, I decided that I would go to Memphis and deliver the speech, which I did. There were some 10,000 or 12,000 persons there throughout.
Now, on that evening, I was the guest of the Municipal, County, and State Employees Union, headed by Mr. Jerry Wurf, and they had a room for all of their guests in the Peabody Hotel; this is the old, downtown established hotel in Memphis.
Mr. MATHEWS. So, you stayed in the Peabody?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Yes; because it is unionized. This was the argument that they gave.
Mr. MATHEWS. That morning, did you travel to the airport and pick up Dr. King?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Yes; the next morning, of course, as usual, through the courtesy of a funeral home in Memphis and Rev. Solomon Jones, the driver, I was picked up and taken to the airport to meet Dr. King, and from there, we went to the Clayborn Temple A.M.E. Church and the Minimum Salary Building of the A.M.E. Church, and we could not follow our usual custom of going in the church workshopping the marchers on our nonviolent technique and gathering from them their knives, whatever they had, which would keep them from becoming violent in case they might be attacked, became there were so many people outside and there was a restlessness within the crowd.
There were large numbers of young people who appeared to be very, very cooperative, yet, they were restless and anxious to actually move and to get going with that march.
Mr. MATHEWS. So, was the decision made by yourself and Dr. King to proceed with the march on the 28th of March?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Yes; and in consultation with local leaders we decided the best thing to do was to really get the march started so that we would not face what we had faced here in Washington where the people were here, the leaders were supposed to be out front, and the people were ready to march.
So we thought it would be best to really get the march started, and we moved down Beale Street, a very famous street in Memphis, and turned into Main Street. It was then that these young men, there were some Black men in the march who began to pat us on the back and congratulate us and tell us how great we were and how blessed they were to have us in Memphis, and then we would hear smashing seemingly of windows and then it became very clear to us that windows were being broken and that violence had broken out on this march and Dr. King signaled Rev. James Lawson to come to him with his bullhorn and he said violence has broken out on this march: I will never lead a violent march, so, please call it off. And Reverend Lawson called the march off.
At that very moment, the Memphis Police and State troopers appeared with their tear gas and began to fix their helmets, and, of course, at that point, someone stopped the last car that they permitted to cross Main Street and asked that we might use the car to take Dr. King out of the crowd.
Of course, Rev. Bernard Lee, myself and Dr. King were put in this car. Reverend Jones drove the car down to the Riverside Drive with the aid of two motorcycle cops. And once we were here, they wanted to know what hotel we wanted to go to, and, of course, I suggested the Peabody because that's where I had spent the night before. They said they could not get to the Peabody because violence had broken out, the city had been tear gassed and it was impossible to cross Main Street.
Then Dr. King said, "Well, to the Lorraine Motel, and they said, "Well, that's even worse. We cannot get to the Lorraine Motel, but we will take you to a hotel, and they took us to the Riverdale.
Mr. MATHEWS. Was that the Rivermont?
Dr. ABERNATHY. The Rivermont, maybe that's it; the Rivermont Holiday Inn. We had never been there before, but I guess they had radioed ahead because they were expecting us. They had a suite ready. We were taken directly to the suite with two bedrooms and a living area, and it was there that we heard over the news that a curfew had been called for by the mayor of the city.
No one was permitted on the streets. A young Black man had been killed and Dr. King was greatly, greatly disturbed. It was the most restless night. It was a terrible and a horrible experience for him. I had never seen him in all my life so upset and so troubled by the fact that violence had broken out on his march.
This was the first time that we had ever experienced any violence from our ranks. Certainly, violence had been inflicted upon our demonstrators, but never before had any of our demonstrators perpetrated any violence, defensive or aggressive, upon anyone and naturally, he was concerned about his image across the country and they were giving him a tough time about Vietnam, at that time, of course, the press was very, very familiar with him.
No longer was he a novelty and they were writing editorials that were not too complimentary and, of course, Dr. King was greatly disturbed by all of this, and this was a horrible evening.
Mr. MATHEWS. Did he make the decision at that time to return to Memphis to lead a nonviolent march or was that decision made later?
Dr. ABERNATHY. No; that decision was made later.
Mr. MATHEWS. When?
Dr. ABERNATHY. That decision was not made until Saturday. The march had taken place on Thursday. The night of which I speak of that was such a painful night was a Thursday night.
Mr. MATHEWS. That was March 28, 1968.
Dr. ABERNATHY. That is correct.
Mr. MATHEWS. Did the decision you speak of occur on March 30, 1968, which was a Saturday?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Yes; that is correct. That decision was made by the executive staff of the conference.
Mr. MATHEWS. What was that decision?
Dr. ABERNATHY. If I may just back up a little, just let me say that, on Friday morning, Dr. King had called for a press conference and, of course, I guess he fell asleep around 5 or 6 o'clock. I permitted him to sleep once he had finally gone to sleep, and a group of young men came to the hotel--
Mr. MATHEWS. This is at the Rivermont on Friday the 29th of March?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Yes; they came and asked if they could see Dr. King. Of course, I told them that he was resting and he needed to rest. Then they identified themselves as members of the Invaders and said they were the people responsible for the violence, that they had dropped out of the ranks of the march and broken windows and then taken refuge back in the march.
I readily recognized many of them because these were the young men who were patting us on the back; they were young Black men saying how wonderful it was that we had come to Memphis to help them and they said that they were very, very disturbed because the young man who had been killed in the violence was a member of their group, and they wanted to make that confession to Dr. King, and it was at that point that I went in and told him what they wanted to do, and he said, "Well they will just have to make it to you, which will be all right." He said, well, you can take the confession. I am going to get up now and get ready for the press conference."
And, of course, they did make that confession, and we talked about, it, and en route to the press conference, he stopped briefly and heard what they had to say.
Of course, we went on to the press conference and, strangely enough, the lion, as I like to call it, in Dr. King came out in his press conference. He was a very courageous man, yet, he was a very meek and humble man, but he would always rise to any occasion, and it was at this point that he really mastered that press conference, as we walked in and said this would not be just an ordinary briefing, but it can be a press conference, it may be on the record or off the record, ask whatever questions you want to ask. He did not use his aide, Reverend Lee, to begin the conference.
He did it all himself. It made me so very proud of him. Once we were back in the room, I just had to express the joy after such a painful night, and he said, "Well, David, what I want you to do now is get me out of Memphis; get me to Atlanta." And of course, we took the first flight available to Atlanta. He wanted me to go with him to the
health club at the YMCA. I thought it was more important that I go show myself to my wife and let her know that I was still alive and unharmed in spite of what the press may have said. I wanted her to see with her own eyes. So I went home and it was from the health club that he called me.
Mr. MATHEWS. Dr. Abernathy, let me stop you briefly here. Can you relate to us briefly what occurred at the meeting on March 30? Was some decision, made at that point in time to return to Memphis by SCLC staff and Dr. King?
Dr. ABERNATHY. OK, you want me to skip the other?
Mr. MATHEWS. Yes; I do.
Dr. ABERNATHY. Thank you. We decided eventually that we were going to Washington with the poor people's campaign; we were going by the way of Memphis, Tenn. Dr. King was not present at the time that the decision was made. The executive staff, Rev. Hosea Williams, Rev. Jesse Jackson, now Ambassador Andrew Young, myself and Rev. Bernard Lee and just the full executive staff was present when the decision was made.
Since I was the vice president of the organization, they asked me if I would please contact the president -- I knew where he was -- and inform him that they wanted to see him; they wanted to convey to him themselves their feelings.
Of course, I contacted him and finally, he came after about 2 hours. I wanted to tell you how depressed he was. I thought it was important you know that. But I guess you have, that entered in the record some place.
Mr. MATHEWS. Yes, sir.
Dr. ABERNATHY. He was very, terribly depressed; a depression that I had never experienced before and had never seen. He was back in this shell. And, of course, he finally came after about 2 hours, and the staff informed him of their decision to go to Memphis. They gave the outline that he was to preach the next Sunday morning at the Washington Cathedral here and certain staff persons would go to Memphis and been workshopping the people on Sunday, and others would go in on Monday and Dr. King and myself were to come in on Tuesday.
Mr. MATHEWS. So, there came a time, then, on April 3, 1968, when you and Dr. King arrived in Memphis, is that correct?
Dr. ABERNATHY. We didn't go into Memphis until on Wednesday.
Mr. MATHEWS. That was April 3,1968, Wednesday?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Wednesday, that's right.
Mr. MATHEWS. Did you stay at the Lorraine Motel that day?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Yes; we did.
Mr. MATHEWS. That night, did Dr. King give a speech that has now become known as the "mountaintop speech" at the Mason Temple?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Surely, he gave it. As you know, there were tornado warnings in Memphis and a great deal of rain. He had asked me to give the speech that night, but once I got there, I discovered there was a large press and all the television cameras. I knew they wanted to hear what the most peaceful warrior of the 20th century had to say. So, I called him and asked him if he would please come and he assured me he would come and make the speech that evening and, of course, I introduced him and then he made the famous speech, that longevity certainly has its virtues, that every man would like to live a long life,
but so far as he was concerned, it didn't matter any more. All he wanted to do was to do the will of God because he had been to the mountaintop and he had viewed the promised land from afar and that he might not get there with the people, but eventually one day, his people would get to the promised land and, of course, he closed with, "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."
It was a marvelous speech. It was a moving speech. Many people thought that he had a premonition or maybe some knowledge which he had received through letter or telephone that something was going to happen.
Mr. MATHEWS. You say many people. You were his closest friend. What do you think?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Well, think he had received some word.
Mr. MATHEWS. A premonition?
Dr. ABERNATHY. No; I just think he had received some word from some source that he was going to be assassinated.
Mr. MATHEWS. But you have no knowledge?
Dr. ABERNATHY. No; I have no knowledge.
Mr. MATHEWS. Dr. Abernathy, let me take you directly now to April 4, 1968, the day of the assassination, and the most important aspect of your testimony here today.
Could you describe from approximately 4 o'clock onward the sequence of events that occurred on that day?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Well, about 4 o'clock, thereabouts, the telephone rang in the room, and I answered the phone and it was Dr. King saying to me:
David, I want you to come down to the room, come down to my brother's room, A. D.'s room. I would like for you to come down and be with us.And, of course, I went down and he told me about the lengthy conversation which they had held with his mother over the telephone and how pleased she was that A. D. was there with him.
Of course, we had this dinner engagement at the home of Rev. and Mrs. Billy Kyles. And, of course, he wanted to know the menu so he asked me if I would call and find out since Dr. King is not a man for eating a lot of broccoli and asparagus and cauliflower.
He liked good food. You know, soul food. And so I did call Mrs. Kyles and talked with her about her menu and repeated it so he knew exactly what was being served.
And finally, she got around to the good soul food she was going to have also. He was very pleased to know that, and then we went back to the room, to our room where he shaved and we talked about some things.
I revealed to him the fact that I would not utter it in the meeting, but I could not come to Washington for the poor people's campaign preparatory committee 100, on the date which we had agreed in the meeting. I would not say that in the meeting because I didn't want to make any lengthy discussions or anything of that nature, but I bad a revival service in my church and it was totally impossible for me. Flo said, "Well, David" -- always called him Michael, by his real name, and he always called me David, by my real name. He said:
David, I wouldn't think of going to Washington without you. We have got to get that revival rescheduled and we must find a preacher.
Of course, we attempted to call the preacher in New Orleans who could have done the job to my satisfaction, because I didn't have time to promote it. And, of course, the pastor was away with his bishop out in the rural and there was no telephone. Of course, we never did get through on that one.
So then, he turned to me and he said:
Well, if I know that you are the pastor of the greatest church in America, had not you accepted that church, I was going to leave my father and go and pastor to the West Hunter Street Baptist Church.
Those people will do anything you tell them. And I want you to go to the West Hunter Church and tell them that you have a greater revival, you have a revival where you are going to revive the soul of this Nation, where you are going to cause America to feed the hungry, to have concern for those who are downtrodden and disinherited; you have a revival where you are going to cause America to stop denying necessities to the masses only to give luxuries to the classes.
He said, "If you will do that, I'm sure that West Hunter Street Church will understand and we can go ahead with this campaign."
He said, "Give me your promise and give me your word that you will not let me down."
I said, "Well, I will do it. We have been together so far, and there is no need for us to separate now."
And, he said, "Are you ready?" And I said, "Yes," and we put our coats on and we started out of the motel room. Just as we got in the door, I said, "Wait just a moment, let me put on some aftershave lotion," and, of course, he said, "OK, I'll stand right here on the balcony." And, of course, before I could get the lotion up on my face, I heard what sounded like a firecracker.
Naturally, I jumped and, of course, I then looked and I could see only his feet. Had he fallen directly back, he would have fallen right in the room, right in the door, but the bullet was so powerful, it twisted his body and he had fallen in a kind of kitty-cornered fashion and, of course, I rushed out immediately.
I heard the groans of the people in the courtyard who had hit the ground and, of course, I stepped across him because the bullet had entered his right cheek and I patted his left cheek, consoled him and got his attention saying, "This is Ralph, this is Ralph, don't be afraid."
Someone from the Community Relations Service came crawling bringing me a pillow and a blanket. I put it under his head and covered him with it. I stayed with him in the ambulance. I helped put him in the ambulance. I stayed with him in the operating room. I helped to give him the oxygen with the attendant on duty en route to the hospital.
I was there when the physician said to me that it would be a blessing, it would be an act of mercy, if he did pass because the bullet had really entered the cheek and then it had moved and severed his spine and then it had come down in the chest. This is where once they cut the clothing off, there was a hole big enough in his body for me to put both my fists, which I had not seen before until they cut off his clothing, and so forth.
And he said he would be a vegetable had he lived the rest of his life; he would be paralyzed from his neck down. And finally, he came
over to me and said again that the person who just left was the neurosurgeon.
Of course, he had shaken his head as he walked out. He said, "I doubt that anything will be done." Of course, I went over; I said, if I might go over. He said I could. I went over and that was the end.
It happened 1 hour from the time that he was shot.
Mr. MATHEWS. Mr. Chairman?
Chairman STOKES. Yes.
Mr. MATHEWS. I have no further questions of the witness.
Chairman STOKES. Dr. Abernathy, let me express our appreciation for the testimony you have just given us.
I guess, in a very sobering way, you have helped all of us once again realize the meaning of the life of Dr. King and the civil rights movement in this Nation of which you are one of the great leaders, also.
The committee will now operate under the 5-minute rule and with unanimous consent the Chair would like to out of order recognize the distinguished gentleman from Tennessee, who represents the district in which Dr. King was assassinated, as the first member to question the witness.
The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Tennessee, Mr. Ford.
Mr. FORD. Thank you very much. Mr. Chairman, Dr. Abernathy, at the outset may I extend my personal welcome to you and express my appreciation for your appearance here today. Unfortunately, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in the city where I was born and raised. The people of the city of Memphis were as much a victim of this shocking American tragedy as was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and with your permission, may I ask a few questions?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Yes, sir, I will be delighted to answer. May I ask does it mean that you and I have only 5 minutes now?
Mr. FORD. I don't think so.
Chairman STOKES. It means this, Dr. Abernathy: Under the 5-minute rule each member of the committee will have 5 minutes in which to question you, and I have to recognize the next member, and, of course, the committee can at its discretion continue under the 5-minute rule as they so desire, so the member can always come back to you again.
Dr. ABERNATHY. I See.
Mr. FORD. Dr. Abernathy, what was. Dr. King's attitude toward security and police protection?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Dr. King felt very strongly that there was a higher power of security and a greater police power. He really did not rely nor did he trust the police power in this country. He knew that in the Deep South that the sheriffs, who were all white, and the police chiefs, who were all white, and the various majority of the police, who were all white, were against him. He knew that the FBI was against him and could not be trusted. He knew that the CIA was against him and could not be trusted. That is, hotel rooms had been bugged and that he had been under surveillance by the police. So the police and security was looked upon really as an enemy rather than a force of good, and he refused to own a gun or to permit anyone on his staff to carry any guns for his own protection. He felt that the most powerful force in this country, and in the world, is nonviolence and that one could protect himself with nonviolence more effectively than he could with weapons.
Mr. FORD. Dr. Abernathy, during the period of late 1967 and until his untimely death in 1968, was the life of Dr. Martin Luther King threatened?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Oh, yes; he was constantly threatened. He suffered many, many, many threats; many, many threats in Montgomery, Ala., threats in Atlanta, Ga., and all across the country where he lead movements and where he went to speak. Of course, there were threats. And even on the day, which would have been April 3, we took a plane out of Atlanta, Ga. We sat on this airplane for 1 hour with no explanation from the captain or the pilot or any of the officers or the stewardesses, and finally the pilot said, after an hour:
Ladies and gentlemen, I want to apologize for the delay but today we have a distinguished person on this plane: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We wanted to be very, very careful so we had the plane guarded all night last night and then we checked every piece of luggage in order that we might not have any bombs exploding, because if Dr. King is to be killed, we don't want to be killed also.
or some words to that effect.
So he was constantly getting threats, many of them through the mail, over the telephone, some of it was in person, as in Selma, Ala., a man came up and struck him as he attempted to register at a downtown hotel where no Blacks had ever lived before.
Mr. FORD. To your knowledge, was the Federal Bureau of Investigation aware of these threats?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Oh, yes; they were aware of them. We would report some of them. We did not report all of them because it became very apparent to us that tie FBI had no intention of doing anything about them. You see, so many members of the FBI were Southerners, racist Southerners, white Southerners, and because you take a racist white man and put an FBI badge on him, that does not change their thinking in their heart one bit, it just makes them Federal personnel.
Also we knew Mr. Hoover's attitude, who was then the head of the FBI Department. He had called Dr. King the most notorious liar in the country, and I visited Mr. Hoover and I knew his attitude toward Dr. King, and we would report for the record many of these threats and nothing was done about it. We didn't see any investigations taking place, nonetheless, for the sake of the record we would report some of them.
Chairman STOKES. Time of the gentleman has expired.
Mr. FORD. Mr. Chairman. I would ask unanimous consent to proceed for an additional 10 minutes.
Chairman STOKES. Without objection, the gentleman is recognized.
Mr. FORD. Dr. Abernathy, did Dr. King ever allow his own personal safety to interfere with his divine mission to provide equal rights for all people?
Dr. ABERNATHY. No; he certainly did not. He was always concerned about equal rights for all people, and his personal safety became secondary. This is not to suggest at all that he wanted to become a martyr. He loved life and he wanted to live but his commitment to the cause of Christ -- this is what I call it, you may call it something else -- his commitment to the American dream, was much more powerful and much more forceful than his own personal safety.
Mr. FORD. What was his position regarding his own personal safety?
Dr. ABERNATHY. 0h, yes; they were aware of them. We would report my battles; that truth crushed to the earth will rise again, and that if
a man has not discovered something that he is willing to die for, then that man is not fit to live. He also felt that freedom is costly and that there would be no freedom unless there is suffering and sacrifice, but he believed at the very same time that there was power in redemptive suffering.
Mr. FORD. Dr. Abernathy, to your knowledge, did the Memphis Police Department and the Memphis Office of the FBI have any information regarding the many threats made upon the life of Dr. King? The Memphis Office of the FBI and the Memphis Police Department?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Oh, yes, the Memphis Office of the FBI had some knowledge of some of the threats because some threats had been made in Memphis, Tenn., and the police department in Memphis. This is seen very clearly by the fact that each time that we went into Memphis there were two Black detectives who were assigned to us while in the city of Memphis.
Mr. FORD. In view of the plane being searched in Atlanta and the many possible implications arising therefrom, and in view of the Memphis Police Department and the Memphis Office of the FBI being not only aware of the threats on Dr. King's life but also that he was en route to Memphis, what police protection outside of these two police officers was given Dr. King when he arrived in Memphis on April 3, 1968?
Dr. ABERNATHY. None.
Mr. FORD. Having made reference to the FBI, to your knowledge, was Dr. King acquainted with its then Director, J. Edgar Hoover? You made statements Mr. Hoover made in regards to Dr. King. Was Dr. King acquainted with him? Had he ever met with him or talked with him or spoken with him about the threats personally?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Oh, yes; he had met Mr. Hoover and he had talked with Mr. Hoover.
Mr. FORD. Do you have any opinion as to whether or not the FBI through its Director, Mr. Hoover, harassed and thereby attempted to impede the objectives of Dr. King? If so, explain.
Dr. ABERNATHY. Well, impede in the sense of seeking to destroy one's morale or esprit de corps or kill one's spirit. I don't know of them seeking to block any march or any demonstration but to impede by bugging our hotel room and sending your wife a tape, which are supposed to have been some activities that may have taken place in your hotel room; to know that you are under surveillance; that there is somebody on every plane that you traveled there with you, naturally this would impede in some way, but I don't know of Mr. Hoover or the FBI standing in our way anywhere where a march was concerned or preventing us from going to jail if we sought to violate a law that we considered to be an unjust law.
Mr. FORD. Did you or your staff have any information which might lead you to believe that the Director, Mr. Hoover, was communicating orders pertaining to Dr. King directly, verbally, and unofficially into the Memphis area prior to the April 4 assassination?
Dr. ABERNATHY. No; I do not have any information on that.
Mr. FORD. Dr. Abernathy --
Chairman STOKES. Time of the gentleman has expired.
Mr. FORD. One last final question, Mr. Chairman.
Dr. Abernathy, prior to Dr. King's coming to Memphis and indeed at any time before his assassination, did you, or to your knowledge
Dr. King, or anyone on his staff. know that the official in charge of the Memphis Police Department was a former FBI agent who served 8 of his 25 Years with the Bureau as inspector in charge of the personal office -- and I repeat, sir -- in the personal office of Mr. Hoover, the Director of the FBI?
Dr. ABERNATHY. No; we did not know that.
Chairman STOKES. Time of the gentleman has expired. The gentleman from Ohio, Mr. Devine.
Mr. DEVINE. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I hope from the questioning thus far that this doesn't turn into a trial of the FBI rather than trying to fulfill the mandate of the Congress to determine whether or not Mr. Ray was alone, or whether as the person charged with having committed this offense, was involved in a conspiracy. That is the objective.
Dr. Abernathy, we appreciate your being here this morning, and in connection with your earlier testimony about being in the room that you apparently shared with Dr. King and putting the face lotion on as he went onto the balcony, you heard what you thought was a firecracker.
Dr. ABERNATHY. Yes.
Mr. DEVINE. Do you know who was on the balcony with him at that time?
Dr. ABERNATHY. There was nobody on the balcony with him.
Mr. DEVINE. Was he alone and in front of the door of the room that you were occupying?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Yes; he was alone.
Mr. DEVINE. And you emerged when you heard the noise and Dr. King had fallen? I believe you said his body twisted slightly around the corner of the room there, in the area way?
Do you know who was immediately below in the parking lot looking up toward where Dr. King was?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Yes; there were several persons, many persons in the courtyard just below.
Mr. DEVINE. Any specifically that you can identify?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Rev. Solomon Jones, the driver, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Mr. Ben Branch, Ambassador Andrew Young, Rev. Bernard Scott Lee. These were all staff members of SCLC. Representative Hosea Williams, State representative.
Mr. DEVINE. I know that vast confusion occurred immediately following this tragic event. Do you recall any of the persons down there pointing in any direction saying "The shot came from here," or anything like that?
Dr. ABERNATHY. No; the first thing that happened, once I heard the sound of what I thought was something, like a firecracker. I looked and saw only his feet, and I rushed out. Everybody hit the ground, Mr. Congressman, taking refuge, because they thought the place was being shot up, somebody was shooting into the crowd, but this was immaterial to me, and I was concerned about my friend, my buddy, so while they were on the ground they stayed there until, you know, considerable time and, of course, the first person to get up to where we were was the Rev. Billy Kyles, to whose home we were going for dinner. He had come to be with us, to go with us.
Mr. DEVINE. But you heard no more than one shot or one firecracker sound?
Dr. ABERNATHY. That is right, only one. And then Rev. Andrew Young was the second person who came up. Rev. Bernard Lee was the next person, and then Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Hosea Williams, and they began to pick out where they thought the shot came from, and this is where the pointing -- you may have seen a picture where they are standing pointing and I am down on the floor with Dr. King.
Mr. DEVINE. Do you recall in which direction they were pointing?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Well, I can't get the geography of Memphis. They were pointing away from the motel across the street.
Mr. DEVINE. Directly away from the balcony on which Dr. King had been standing?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Yes.
Mr. DEVINE. And do you knew whether that direction happens to be the roominghouse, that has since been publicized about this incident?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Yes; that was the roominghouse.
Mr. DEVINE. Are you acquainted with the crime scene map that rests here to your left against the wall? Can you identify any portion thereof? 
Dr. ABERNATHY. No.
Mr. DEVINE. The blue in the middle being the swimming pool that your balcony overlooked.
Dr. ABERNATHY. This is the first time I have seen that map.
Mr. DEVINE. Perhaps later we can identify it in more detail.
You said following Dr. King's speech, which was outstanding, about looking over the mountain and so forth, that he came back and he said to the effect "Now get me out of Memphis." Where were you going?
Dr. ABERNATHY. To Atlanta.
Mr. DEVINE. To Atlanta?
Dr. ABERNATHY. To our homes.
Mr. DEVINE. And you also said this: "I think he had received some word from sources that he would be assassinated."
Now, on what do you base that thought, that assumption. You said, "I think he had received some word from sources that he would be assassinated." That is what you said directly in response to Mr. Mathew's questioning.
Dr. ABERNATHY. Yes; I base it, Congressman, on his attitude. I had just returned from a trip around the world and Dr. King became -- he was altogether a different individual; he was troubled; he was worried; he was nervous and very, very jittery. We went on a vacation down in Acapulco, Mexico, to get some rest before we started the organizing of the poor people's campaign. He began to do what he had never did, and that was to pass on to me certain information that he wanted me to have. He repreached the sermon that he preached in his own church, "A Drum Major for Justice," where he really talks about his death, his funeral, and said if anybody is around, I don't want a long funeral, don't mention the fact that I hold a Ph. D. degree, and some 18 or 20 other doctorate degrees, don't mention the fact that I hold a Nobel Peace Prize, just say that I tried to help somebody, I wanted to be a drum major for justice and equality. He
 See infra p. 77.
preached that sermon to me. We were in Acapulco for rest and relaxation and there was no rest or relaxation. He, was troubled and worried.
And at that point I would say he was frightened, and it is on this basis --
Mr. DEVINE. You came to this conclusion on the basis of Dr. King's attitude and conduct rather than anything that he said to you about any specific source threatening to assassinate him; is that correct?
Dr. ABERNATHY. That is correct, he didn't say anything.
Chairman STOKES. The time of the gentleman has expired.
The gentleman from North Carolina, Mr. Preyer.
Mr. PREYER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Dr. Abernathy, your testimony and Mr. Blakey's review of the civil rights history, I think, has given very dramatic evidence of the accomplishments of Dr. King and his close associates like yourself. Also I think it gives some meaning to the plaque that is on the Lorraine Motel now. The members of the committee went down to view room 306 at the Lorraine Motel, in which you and Dr. King were staying. As you know, now it is a memorial. Incidentally, it was news to me that it is also a memorial to the widow of the owner of the Lorraine Motel, whose first name was Lorraine, and who died that night of a cerebral hemorrhage, apparently because of great concern over this. That plaque that is now outside the room is from the Book of Genesis, and I will probably quote it wrong, but you or Reverend Fauntroy can correct me. But it, of course, deals with Joseph being sold into Egypt by his brothers, and it says "Behold the dreamer cometh. Let us kill the dreamer and we shall see what happens to his dreams."
Do you feel the assassination of Dr. King was an effort to kill the dream, that is, was it a political assassination to kill him for his ideas, or do you feel it was the act of an unbalanced individual who was seeking to assert his own self-importance by killing an important man?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Mr. Congressman, I am very happy to answer that question because, first, I chose the scripture and I placed the plaque there, "Behold, here cometh the dreamer, come now, let us slay him and we shall cast him into a pit and we shall say that some wild beast has devoured him, and then we shall see what will become of his dreams."
I believe very firmly that the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a political assassination. I believe that it was a conspiracy. I believe that he was assassinated in an attempt to kill the dream, the American dream, the fulfilling of that dream, for all peoples, Black and white, young and old, rich and poor, brown, yellow, and red.
Mr. PREYER. That is one of the missions of this committee, to attempt to answer that question and get to the bottom of that. I believe you have already outlined the reasons why you feel that way with Mr. Devine, the troubled attitude of Dr. King, the surrounding circumstances, but that so far you do not have other direct evidence tending to show that.
Dr. ABERNATHY. That is correct, I do not have any direct evidence that anyone spoke with him or said that he was going to be assassinated. All I know is that when I returned in January of 1968 from a peace mission around the world, that Dr. King was a completely different individual, he was a troubled man, and I believe that somebody bad conveyed certain information to him. He already had written
into the SCLC constitution that I would succeed him, but then he began to share certain things with me. For instance, in his last executive staff meeting when Representative Hosea Williams, now Representative Hosea Williams, wanted to employ three or four of the Invaders on our staff, he turned to me and said, "Ralph, under no circumstances and at no time in the history of this SCLC must there be anyone who will use violence as a technique, as a strategy, or even as a tactic, to gain any rights for Black or for poor American people." He said, "I am charging you and holding you responsible."
I thought then that he was saying it because I was treasurer of the organization as well as the vice president and signed the checks. I didn't know he was saying it because very soon I would be the president of the organization and I would be in charge of hiring everyone.
Chairman STOKES. The time of the gentleman has expired.
The Chair recognizes the distinguished chairman of the King Subcommittee, the gentleman from the District of Columbia, Mr. Fauntroy.
Mr. FAUNTROY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I would like Dr. Abernathy, to express my appreciation of the committee and the American people for your very moving testimony before us today.
Dr. Abernathy, you have indicated that while you, too, noted Dr. King was a very troubled man toward the end of his life, and while you have given us a number of indications that he had a premonition about his own death, you have candidly reported that you do not know of any specific threat that he received or that he mentioned to you.
You have speculated that the bit of depression or the depression that he was in was perhaps due, among other things, to the harassment of which he was almost daily aware from the FBI.
I wonder if you would care to comment to the committee on why you think the FBI harassed Dr. King in ways that you knew then and ways that we have all come to know far better since.
Dr. ABERNATHY. Thank you very kindly, Mr. Fauntroy. The harassment of Dr. King, from the FBI, not only Dr. King, but so many of us associated with him, began even as early as Montgomery, Ala., back in 1955 when our telephones were tapped and we knew they were tapped and our homes were bugged and we knew that our homes were bugged because we would hear strange noises and sounds and information was getting out and we learned to live with it because anything we wanted to say, we always spoke in codes or we would go use a pay telephone and would never use the same pay phone.
I can only attribute it to the fact that the Kerner Commission revealed and it was imminent that we just live in a racist country and there are people in this country who do not want Blacks and browns and yellows, and other minorities, especially the poor, to enjoy the blessings of this land and, unfortunately, an agency of our Federal Government that we always looked to as our friends was certainly, in my estimation and my belief, an enemy because we were seeking to bring about change, and change is very difficult for many people. And, of course, Black people were tired and I never before in the history of this country has there been one national voice that was respected by the vast majority of the masses of the people and the masses of the people were moving and following the leadership of Dr. King.
I think there were those, including the FBI, who felt that they ought to discredit and to render ineffective Martin Luther King, Jr.
Mr. FAUNTROY. You mentioned also in connection with the march that several of the young men who were responsible for the violence would come in and out of the crowd and pat you on the back and congratulate you for having come, and then go and commit acts of violence; is that true?
Dr. ABERNATHY. That's correct.
Mr. FAUNTROY. What reason did you think motivated them to do that? You reflected upon this obviously afterwards. Why did you think that they would deliberately deceive you about their support of nonviolence and of Dr. King while, at the same time, turning around and doing what they knew would be destructive of his purposes?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Well, later, we discovered that some of these young men were being paid by the FBI as informers and to bring about violence which would discredit SCLC and its leadership and Dr. King.
We also discovered from the young men, themselves, demands of SCLC. They wanted gifts in terms of money, they wanted cars, they had their own cause that they wanted to promote, calls of racism, separatism and, of course, SCLC has been as much against Black separatism as we are against white separatism.
We want the beloved community, the integrated society.
Mr. FAUNTROY. Mr. Chairman, I would like unanimous consent for 2 additional minutes.
Chairman STOKES. Without objection.
Mr. FAUNTROY. Dr. Abernathy, is it your testimony that before Dr. King died, he was aware that members of the Invaders were, in fact, FBI informants?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Oh, yes; he was aware of that. As I stated, they came the next morning in the cloak of righteousness to confess their sins, but later, they came to make demands. Of course, he did receive the knowledge that they were FBI informants.
Mr. FAUNTROY. Do you recall any specific-strike that.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I think that is all the questions I have at this time.
Chairman STOKES. In recognizing the next member, I would like the record to reflect the Chair's recognition and commendation of this gentleman for what the Chair knows to have been an enormously dedicated member of the King subcommittee, one who has expended many, many hours of hard, dedicated work on behalf of that subcommittee; the gentleman from Connecticut, Mr. McKinney.
Mr. McKINNEY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It is an honor to welcome you here, Dr. Abernathy.
Dr. ABERNATHY. Thank you, Mr. McKinney.
Mr. McKINNEY. How concerned were you and Dr. King about the Invaders and the possibility of their destroying your reputation for nonviolence?
Dr. ABERNATHY. We were greatly concerned about it, greatly concerned, because never before bad we confronted a group that were paid informers for the FBI that we were knowledgeable of and a group that made such heavy demands of SCLC.
We did not have money to even finance our own campaign, and we were getting ready to launch the largest campaign that ever had taken
place within this country, the poor people's campaign and we just didn't have the money, and we were concerned, greatly concerned about our image as a nonviolent organization.
Mr. McKINNEY. Did you, at any time, or Dr. King at any time, discuss the fact that the Invaders might pose a potential threat to Dr. King's own safety?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Oh, yes; we were aware of that and we discussed it, and this is why we insisted that Dr. King not see them any more, but that Hosea Williams and Andrew Young and Jim Bevel, and some other persons from our staff would have dealings with them, but they became violent with Ambassador Young.
They -- I don't guess I should say ambassador, he wasn't ambassador then -- but they became violent with him and he had to be rescued as they were seeking to get money from us.
And we had never encountered a group like this group before. May I hasten to add that they were young men, they were intelligent looking men, they were clean-cut men, they were not a lot of bearded men, anything of that nature, but they were very impressive young men and we had great hopes for them and for all the youth of America.
And yet, it was just disturbing, once we knew that they were trying to destroy the image of Dr. King, that they were playing right into the hands of the enemy.
Mr. McKINNEY. Were you aware on the night you checked into the Lorraine that the Invaders had a room in the Lorraine that evening, too?
Dr. ABERNATHY. No; we were not.
Mr. McKINNEY. Would that have concerned you?
Dr. ABERNATHY. It certainly would have.
Mr. McKINNEY. When and how did you find out that the Invaders were receiving help from outside sources?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Well, I met the Invaders first on the morning after the march where the violence took place, and when we first found out that they were receiving aid and assistance from the FBI, that came later the following week when we returned to Memphis. We returned to Memphis on the third, and this is what, when we got there, we were told by our intelligence department, by our staff.
Mr. McKINNEY. Did you feel at any time that perhaps the Southern Christian Leadership Conference might have been infiltrated by any Government agency or by any other group such as the Invaders?
Dr. ABERNATHY. No; I never did, Congressman. I find it difficult to believe now. Naturally, I know poor people, well, people period. The first law of nature is human survival. I know people have to survive one way or the other and poor people who are hungry might receive some money. If someone pressed $500 in your hand, I guess, who would want to know where Reverend Abernathy is today, in Atlanta, a poor person whose house note is due and car note is due, he might just tell them he is testifying before the House Select Committee on Assassinations in Washington and move on, something like that.
To say that someone was actually cooperating, that they had infiltrated the ranks of SCLC, I did not believe that and find it very, very difficult today. I would like to know just for my own knowledge, because I was always referred to as the pastor of that staff, and I love
each one of them even today wherever they are, and I would just like to know, but I can't get this committee to tell me anything.
Mr. McKINNEY. Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent I have 2 additional minutes.
Chairman STOKES. Without objection, the gentleman is recognized.
Mr. McKINNEY. Moving on from the Invaders, you state that you were well aware of the fact that Dr. King's phone messages and home were bugged and you were also well aware of the fact that people would follow you on airplanes, so on and so forth.
Do you think your rooms at the Lorraine were bugged?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Well, at that time, we did not think that. We though we were safe and secure at the Lorraine.
Mr. McKINNEY. I have a problem in that we have become aware, as you were aware, of the tremendous amount of surveillance that Dr. King was under almost constantly. Yet, do you have any recollection or knowledge of when the FBI first got to the Lorraine Motel after his death?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Well, it was within minutes, within minutes.
Mr. McKINNEY. Do you find it a little difficult to reconcile this tremendous surveillance effort with the fact there were seemingly no FBI personnel in the Lorraine or in the immediate vicinity?
Dr. ABERNATHY. I find it difficult because, No. 1, Reverend Kyles, upon my request, could not get an ambulance. An ambulance was never called by our staff and yet, within a 5-minute period, less than 5 minutes, an ambulance was there and the place was just cluttered with police.
I don't know why this committee has not investigated that airplane in Atlanta. I want to know more about that, but maybe they have, I don't know. They don't tell you but so much.
Mr. McKINNEY. We are headed there, Doctor, rest assured.
I want to thank you for your answers.
Chairman STOKES. The Chair is pleased, now, to recognize the distinguished member of the Kennedy subcommittee, another dedicated member of this committee, the distinguished gentlewoman from California, Mrs. Burke.
Mrs. BURKE. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and I join my colleagues in welcoming Dr. Abernathy.
Your statement certainly has been very moving. I notice that you refer to the period of about 4 o'clock when Dr. King called you and asked you to come to his brother's room. His brother was there. Now, some 2 hours elapsed during that time, and could you tell us if there were other people who came and who left, and were there other phone calls that were received during that period of time?
Dr. ABERNATHY. If I may, Mr. Chairman, tell you how delighted I am to answer the questions of this minority personnel on this committee. I am glad at least one woman is on this panel today because. I fight for the rights of the women as well as all minorities.
Chairman STOKES. I am glad to have her on here, too, Dr. Abernathy.
Dr. ABERNATHY. Thank you. Now what happened was, I went down to his room and we had a long chat with A.D., and some other persons, and then he knew he had to shave and, of course, shaving was a real problem, you know, for Dr. King. He used this powder that put off a terrible odor and finally, I guess, after having stayed down there about
an hour, then we went back to the room to get dressed and to go to his shaving ceremonies and the time -- then I revealed to him, as I already testified, that I couldn't go to Washington on those dates.
I didn't want to say it in front of the whole staff because I didn't want to disrupt the program in any way, but I wanted him to know, and then he had to convince me that I should go. We talked about several preachers who could do the revival, including Reverend Fauntroy, and finally we called Rev. Nutrell Long in New Orleans and now he is dead.
We couldn't get him on the telephone. Finally, he turned to me and lectured me about what I should do about the West Hunter Street Church and what I should tell the West Hunter Street Baptist Church, and with the dressing and the shaving and the talking on the telephone, there were no other telephone calls that were made other than down in the room I called Mrs. Kyles to find out what kind of menu we had for dinner.
Mrs. BURKE. When you arrived, though, at his brother's room, you said there were some other people there. Who was there? Was the staff there at that point?
Dr. ABERNATHY. There were some friends. I don't believe that they were staff persons. They were friends who had come along with Rev. King, A. D. King.
Mrs. BURKE. Were they staying at the Lorraine Motel?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Yes.
Mrs. BURKE. How many friends were there?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Two.
Mrs. BURKE. Let me just pursue one other question.
You indicated when asked that you were surprised that there had ever been infiltrating through the ranks of the Invaders. At any time, did you discuss with Dr. King whether or not there might be actual infiltrating of the staff or of SCLC?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Yes. We discussed that. You know, once we would have a movement, sometimes our staff would go as high as 300 persons and especially during our voter registration crusade, our program known as SCOPE, we had a lot of white students who come from the North and we could not know them all on a personal basis.
We may have had as many as 500 persons and there was some concern as to whether some of these people might be FBI informers or, nonetheless, what we were doing we thought, but we knew it was right and eventually that staff would dwindle and we would get down to the normal 45 or 50 persons that we knew on a personal basis, and we had no questions about Rev. James Orange and a Mr. Lester Hankerson, Mrs. Dorothy Cotton, and persons of that stature.
We just didn't feel that they were cooperating with the FBI at all. But I will admit that sometimes strange faces coming from Wisconsin, and various other places, saying we want to join your voter registration drive and we will work for nothing, just let us register voters for you, there were some questions in our minds as to whether they could be trusted all the way.
Chairman STOKES. The time of the gentlewoman has expired. The Chair now recognizes another member of the Kennedy subcommittee, the distinguished gentleman from Connecticut, Mr. Dodd.
Mr. DODD. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Dr. Abernathy, I join, certainly, with my colleagues today in welcoming you to the committee. We appreciate your testimony.
I have really just two questions I would like to ask you, if I could. The first has to do with the fact that, according to your statement and testimony, you went back into the room at the time Dr. King was standing on the balcony when you heard what sounded like a firecracker. You then returned to the porch and from that moment on, you were with him until the pronouncement of his death; is that correct?
Dr. ABERNATHY. That's correct.
Mr. DODD. At any time at all, during the time that you were with him from the moments or seconds after impact, until the pronouncement of his death, did Dr. King say anything whatsoever?
Dr. ABERNATHY. No; he did not utter any words at all. He attempted, his mouth quivered only once, but he did look me dead in the eyes and I got a message from his eyes, but there were no words uttered at all.
Mr. DODD. I wonder if you might go back and explain how it was on the second occasions that you decided to stay at the Lorraine Motel? If I understood your testimony correctly, the week before, you had decided to stay at the Holiday Inn because of the difficulty in getting to the Peabody Hotel and the Lorraine Motel.
When you came back to Memphis again, whose decision was it to go to the Lorraine Hotel?
Dr. ABERNATHY. It was a unanimous decision led by Dr. King. We would always stay where we felt welcome, and we didn't feel welcome at the Peabody or at the Riverdale.
Mr. MATHEWS. Rivermont.
Dr. ABERNATHY. We just felt a part of the Lorraine. It is a Black motel and, of course, they had a lot of catfish there, and Dr. King and I loved catfish and they were not strict, so far as room service is concerned. When you get to the big institutionalized hotels and they say they close at 9 o'clock, that's 9 o'clock. So, we arrived at 11 o'clock; Mr. Bailey, the owner of the Lorraine Motel, would prepare us some catfish and we enjoyed that, and we always stayed in that room 306. This was the King-Abernathy suite.
Mr. DODD. Was that a well-known fact?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Oh, yes; Mr. Bailey knew not to put anybody else there. If he knew we were coming in, he moved them, and he put them up there only if they were full.
Mr. DODD. You anticipated my third and final question to you. That is, with regard to the rooms, themselves, there has been some speculation or an allegation that because of a confusion there you were not staying in that room the night before but someone else had been staying in there.
Was there any confusion as to who was staying in what room, whether in 306 or the adjoining room immediately next to that particular room? Was there any confusion over who was staying in what room?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Yes; there was. Upon our arrival, if my memory serves me correctly, someone else was in the room and, of course, we stayed in an adjoining room and, of course, the next day they were moved out and we were put in our usual room.
Mr. DODD. Was it somebody that you knew, was it a member of the staff?
Dr. ABERNATHY. No, no; it wasn't anyone from the staff.
Mr. DODD. And you don't know to this day who those people were that were staying in that room the night before?
Dr. ABERNATHY. I don't recall.
Mr. DODD. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman STOKES. Time of the gentleman has expired. The Chair recognizes another member of the Kennedy subcommittee, the distinguished gentleman from Michigan, Mr. Sawyer.
Mr. SAWYER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I, too, join in welcoming you here today, Dr. Abernathy.
Dr. ABERNATHY. Thank you.
Mr. SAWYER. I certainly am sympathetic with all your problems on behalf of minorities since I have come down here as a Republican. You notice they even had me segregated here on the dais.
I am interested in your comment as to the behavior of Dr. King and some of his conversations with you that led you to believe that or form an opinion that he may have been advised of a specific threat. Had he ever told you of other specific threats before?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Oh, yes; he told me of some, and especially the airplane flight, once the pilot announced why we had waited so long in Atlanta. He turned to me, you know, with a laugh, and said, "Oh, Ralph, isn't this ridiculous. If they are going to kill me, why would he say it like that?" And we had a big laugh about it, and he had talked about some other threats, certainly.
Mr. SAWYER. What I am getting at, isn't it perhaps possible or an equally plausible explanation for his kind of behavior, and perhaps somewhat of a mild preoccupation with what may be impending disaster, that he was leading what amounted to a revolutionary movement albeit a peaceful revolutionary movement; he was getting a higher and higher profile nationally, and his movement was gaining more and more success, and that recognizing those factors he may have become more conscious of the fact that he was becoming more and more of a target of whatever kind of people do this kind of thing as opposed to it being a specific threat?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Well, that is a possibility but I can't see how over a month's period all of this restlessness comes about.
For instance, in Acapulco, where we went for a rest, I awakened one night, about 3 o'clock in the morning, and, of course, I discovered that there was no Dr. King in the room and I was terribly frightened and I went out in the living area looking for him, and there was no Dr. King, and I didn't know what to do or where to turn, whether to call for hotel security, and finally it came to me to look out on the balcony protruding in the Pacific Ocean, and there stood Dr. King gazing into the Pacific Ocean, and I said, "Martin, tell me what are you doing out here, this time of night and what is it that is troubling you, what is bothering you?" And be said, "You see that rock out there," and I said, "Oh. sure, I see it," and he said, "How long do you think it's been there?" And I said, "I don't know, I guess centuries and centuries. I guess God put it there." And be said, "Well, what am I thinking
about," and I said, "I really don't know, tell me, because I want to know why would you leave this room without telling me," and he said, "Well, you can't tell me what I am thinking about looking at that rock," and I said, "No," and he started singing, "Rock of Ages, cleft for me; let me bide myself in thee," and just the repeated sermons and statements, and preparing me to know all about SCLC and the things he wanted me to do, whereas you know prior to that, in December of 1967, he wasn't talking like that. We were going to Washington. We were going to Washington for broke to conduct the poor people's campaign but now there is a kind of a, well, he is a different person and he is greatly troubled, and I just from my own conclusion, as I look back in retrospect, and in fact Ambassador Young, this was the first thing he asked me: He said, "Dr. Abernathy, I know that Dr. King would tell you anything." He said once we got back to the room, from the mall, he said, "I want to know, tell me, was FBI bothering him, had they called him and told him anything?" And I had to answer, of course, "No." But this is just my belief. I cannot support it other than express my belief.
Mr. SAWYER. Thank you.
Chairman STOKES. Time of the gentleman has expired. The Chair would like the record to reflect the fact that the next two members of this full committee to be called upon have expended an enormous amount of time in terms of the King subcommittee, and the Chair is grateful to you for that amount of time, and I know the subcommittee chairman, Mr. Fauntroy, is, because we are both aware of the number of hours that you have expended in terms of the work product now coming forth from this full committee, and the Chair is pleased at this time to recognize the first of those two gentlemen, Mr. Fithian, the gentleman from Indiana.
Mr. FITHIAN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I join my colleagues, Dr. Abernathy, in welcoming you here and thank you personally for your cooperation with this committee in our long session before and throughout the committee's investigation.
If I interpret your testimony correctly, you said that you think the assassination and killing of Dr. Martin Luther King was a political killing, as a result of a conspiracy, in the attempt to kill a man's dream, and by killing that dream, to kill the dream and the hopes of those who were disenfranchised, or poor or Black, those who could secure neither civil nor political rights, nor economic opportunity.
I want to ask you, Dr. Abernathy, if the killing is the work of a racist, would that fulfill your definition of a political killing, a conspiracy to kill a man's dream?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Well, it would really depend upon whether the racist was paid and the circumstances surrounding it.
I had a letter about 2 weeks ago, less than that, from James Earl Ray, in which he assured me that he did not kill Dr. King and had asked my help in trying to get a new trial for him. I have written to him and informed him that I certainly think that he should have a new trial pending the outcome of this hearing, but I don't think that anything ought to happen until this hearing is finished, because I don't know what might come out of the hearing. But I feel that it was totally impossible for James Earl Ray or for any person who may have pulled the trigger, to have gotten out of Memphis and a false alarm
goes out where the police are concerned, to get to Birmingham and park a car or pick up a car and then get to Canada and then go across the Atlantic and then sustain himself for a period of time without any help or assistance from somewhere.
Mr. FITHIAN. I understand that. I just wanted to get you to comment specifically as to whether or not, setting all personalities aside, a racist killing, that is a killing that was racially motivated, would qualify for your definition or your belief that this was a political assassination?
Dr. ABERNATHY. No, no; not a racist killing by itself.
Mr. FITHIAN. Just a racist killing would not be a political killing by your definition?
Dr. ABERNATHY. No; not by my definition.
Mr. FITHIAN. The second question I wanted to raise has to do with what many people, writers, historians, and others deal with in studying and analyzing the movement itself. Many believe that toward the end of Dr. Martin Luther King's life that the real leadership thrust of the Black rights movements was beginning to slip away to others, to those who could not subscribe to nonviolence, to those who believed that nonviolence had run its course and not, at least not completely succeeded. I am wondering if you would care to speculate as to whether or not the awareness of that on the part of Dr. King, down toward the end of his life, the awareness that others would no longer subscribe to nonviolence, were beginning to grasp part of the action, might that have caused the disturbed and restless outlook of Dr. King?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Well, certainly Dr. King realized this and expressed it to me in Memphis on the day that the violence broke out. That night he said:
Ralph, it may be that those of us who adhere to nonviolence should just step aside and let the violent forces run their course, which will be very temporary and would be very brief, because you can't conduct a violent campaign in this country.
I guess, Congressman, you have never been maced or tear gassed, but there isn't anything violent that you can do in this country that will last any more than 3 or 4 days if they want to get you.
Mr. FITHIAN. Was this the first time that Dr. King had ever indicated that he personally would tolerate violence, but that he might sort of yield up to a temporary interruption of the nonviolent thrust of the movement?
Dr. ABERNATHY. It was the first and only time that he expressed it to me, not that he would give up, but that we would just step aside and let the violent forces run their brief course.
Mr. FITHIAN. I have some other very specific questions about the scene right after the shot.
Chairman STOKES. The gentleman's time has expired. Is the gentleman seeking additional time?
Mr. FITHIAN. May I have 2 additional minutes?
Chairman STOKES. Without objection, the gentleman is recognized 2 additional minutes.
Mr. FITHIAN. When you came out of the room, did you see police in the courtyard at that time?
Dr. ABERNATHY. No; I did not, because everybody was down on the ground when I came in.
Mr. FITHIAN. In any of the adjacent areas, did you see any evidence of police, squad cars, or any evidence that the police were on the scene?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Not at that time. My major concern was Martin Luther King who lay on the balcony. This was my concern, and the other people were down on the ground--
Mr. FITHIAN. I understand.
Dr. ABERNATHY [continuing]. In the courtyard.
Mr. FITHIAN. To back up just a bit, when you arrived at the airport, on that last trip to Memphis, were there Memphis PD members on hand at the airport?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Yes; if I recall correctly, the same two Black policemen, Black detectives, met us.
Mr. FITHIAN. And were there any FBI agents on hand that you recognized?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Not to my knowledge, I never, I didn't know of any.
Mr. FITHIAN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman STOKES. The gentleman from Pennsylvania, Mr. Edgar.
Mr. EDGAR. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Dr. Abernathy, it is a pleasure to have you before our committee today, even under a difficult circumstance of recollecting what took place those very few moments after you heard the firecracker on the balcony.
Before I begin my questioning, I would like to congratulate you for your response to James Earl Ray's letter. It seems to me that that showed some judgment on your part to suggest that this committee in its work over the last 18 months should be at least looked at prior to the decision being made as to whether James Earl Ray receives a trial.
Dr. Abernathy, I would like to pick up on the questioning that Mr. Fithian was dealing with. You described for us very carefully what you did after you heard the firecracker sound and saw Dr. King's feet and went out onto the balcony. I wonder if you could describe for us the first time that you recognized that, a police officer was in the vicinity of the assassination.
Dr. ABERNATHY. Well, the first time that I actually recognized, and I would not be the best judge of it because we have to understand when your dearest friend and closest associate is laying on the balcony, unable to speak, and your next best friend, Ambassador Young, has come up and said, "Oh, God, Ralph, it is over," you know, I am not looking for police, I am trying to give aid and comfort and trying to save his life. So first I attempted to get an ambulance and then the first time I saw police, that is, if you don't call the people from the community relations service police, was when the ambulance came, which was about 5 minutes, and we began to put him on the stretcher; and, of course, the police were there at that point and they were directing and serving as a motorcade, not a motorcade, but motorcycle cop preceded the ambulance to the St. Joseph Hospital.
Mr. EDGAR. Dr. Abernathy, after you were certain that Dr. King was dead, and that there was nothing further that you could do either at the hospital or at the morgue, did the police begin a period of questioning of you about the circumstances surrounding the assassination?
Dr. ABERNATHY. No; I have never been questioned by the police. The doctor in charge, once he had taken his last breath and he had
examined him and he told me that it was all over, he said he would only make one statement, and that was the hour of his passing, and he would leave all of the other statements to me. But as I went out I found out what time Mrs. King was due to arrive, and I immediately had my car to take me to the airport, only I was being paged upon arrival stating that Mrs. King would not arrive because the news had arrived in Atlanta he had passed and she would not be coming. Then I asked the driver to take me to the morgue. And when I arrived at the morgue, I guess there were policemen there. They asked me to identify the body, and then they asked me to sign an order that they might, perform an autopsy and, of course, then my assignment was picking a burial suit and a casket, things of that nature, because I knew the whole Nation and the press would be there the next morning, and I went about those chores, but I don't think I have ever been questioned by the police.
Mr. EDGAR. So it is your testimony that you have never been questioned about the circumstances by the Memphis Police Department.
When did the, FBI question you about the circumstances surrounding the death?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Well, if my memory serves me correctly, unless it can be refreshed, the FBI has never questioned me.
Mr. EDGAR. Thank you. Just one further question.
Chairman STOKES. The gentleman is recognized.
Mr. EDGAR. Dr. Abernathy, you described the depression of Dr. King shortly after the violence that took place on March 28. You also described the fact that the staff met to determine whether or not you should return to Memphis, and in the succeeding days the decision was made to return to Memphis and Dr. King came back.
Was there ever any event or action that took place between March 29, and the return to Memphis that snapped Dr. King out of his depression?
Dr. ABERNATHY. Well, I think on that visit, something did happen. I don't know exactly what it was. Saturday was a horrible day for him, but the visit to Washington, where he preached at the Washington Cathedral -- he was very much inspired by that visit, because the cathedral was packed, I understand, and he was very pleased with his contribution; and when he returned to Atlanta, he called me late in the afternoon on Tuesday and said, suggested that we not go to Memphis until the following day. So I don't know exactly what happened, but when we went back to Memphis he was in good spirits.
Mr. EDGAR. Thank you. I yield back my time.
Chairman STOKES. The time of the gentleman has expired. Are there other members of the committee who seek additional recognition?
Dr. Abernathy, under the rules of this committee any witness appearing before the committee has 5 minutes at the conclusion of his testimony to expand or amplify in any way he so desires on testimony he has given before the committee, and you may avail yourself of that 5 minutes to express yourself in any connection which you so desire. The Chair recognizes you.
Dr. ABERNATHY. Thank you very kindly, Mr. Chairman.
As a Baptist preacher, can I with unanimous consent get an extension? [Laughter.]
Chairman STOKES. Under the rules, we will expand the rules to grant you an extension, if you so desire.
Dr. ABERNATHY. Thank you very kindly, Mr. Chairman Stokes. I have had the pleasure of knowing you across the years, and I think that you have represented not only the State of Ohio and the district within that great State but our whole Nation with great distinction and with honor, and to all of the members of this committee and to my dear friend and colleague, Rev. Del. Walter Fauntroy, who heads up the subcommittee, I want you to know that I am more than delighted to have the privilege and the opportunity to testify before this committee. The special counsel, Mr. Charles Mathews, and members of this investigative team, have been working with me now over a period of some 15 or 18 months, and believe me when I say that it is kind of difficult working with this committee. They don't ever have any money. I have to pay all the bills. I have to take them to dinner. But I would do it because I feel that the truth should be, known concerning the tragic death and assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Each of you have made in your own way a marvelous and outstanding contribution. I listened with great care as you, Mr. Chairman, talked about the long hours put in by certain members of this committee, and I want to thank you for it. I want to thank not you, Mr. Chairman, but them for their hours.
I happen to know that Congressman Ford from Memphis, Tenn., a great friend of mine, has spent long hours, maybe even unaware by the members of this committee, seeking to get to the real root and basis of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. I think that we owe to the American public, we owe it to our Nation, because Martin Luther King, Jr., was the most peaceful warrior of the 20th century. He had a heart of love. He was a drum major for justice and equality, and whomsoever slay the dreamer and sought to destroy his dreams should be known to the American people. And I know that your hours will be long and your task will be great, but I feel so very much that you are equal to the task with a learned member of the grand old Republican Party, along with the Democrats on this panel. I feel that you will get to the truth of this. Unborn generations await your decisions. The youth of America wants to know. You are our representatives. We pay you a fairly decent salary in order that you may represent us and go the places that we cannot go, and find out the questions, and raise the questions, and find out the answers that we, cannot ask; and I just want to lay on your mind and on your heart the fact that the challenge and the responsibility is yours, and if ever in any little way that I can be of any service to you, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Subcommittee Chairman, and to any members of this committee, in sharing information, or aid you in any way, please feel free to call upon me, because I want to make my contribution.
This was my dearest friend and nights have been long since he went away, and I know that Rock of Ages that be spoke about can be cleft for all of us, but I know we live in a great country, the greatest country on the face of the earth, the most powerful Nation, and we must not permit people to be cut down, whether by racists or because of a political act, simply because they espouse a philosophy or an idea that we do not agree with. America is beautiful because we are a country made up of so many different colors. I need not remind you all that
the Nation is eagerly looking this week to hear what you have to say. They want to know. They want answers. They are depending upon you, and may God bless you in your undertakings, and may God bless you in your pursuits, and may His peace forever rest upon you and may you be supplied with the wisdom and the courage to find nothing but the truth, the whole truth, so help you God. I give to each of you my richest benediction, in the name of the Father, of the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Chairman STOKES. Thank you very much, Dr. Abernathy.
Does the subcommittee chairman, Mr. Fauntroy, have any response for the benefit of the members? The second bells have just rung.
Mr. FAUNTROY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I think it would be anticlimatic to say anything at this point, and I would move that we adjourn this session and reconvene at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning to continue the public hearings.
Chairman STOKES. Dr. Abernathy, on behalf of the committee, let us once again thank you for the service you have here rendered today, not only to this committee but the U.S. Congress and to this Nation. It is a redeeming feeling to know that you carry on the dream of your great friend and our great leader, Dr. Martin Luther King. We thank you again for coming, and this meeting is now adjourned until 9 a.m. tomorrow morning.
[Whereupon, at 12:08 p.m., the committee was recessed until Tuesday, August 15, 1978, at 9 a.m.]
Next: Dr. Baden presents medical evidence.