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Chasing King's Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Assassin

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An astonishing account of the assassination of America's most beloved and celebrated civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, by NY Times bestselling author, James L. Swanson.
NAACP Image Award Nominee
Chicago Public Library Best Book of the Year
Kirkus Reviews Best Young Adult Book of the Year

* "[James L. Swanson's] masterful work... reveals, in gripping style, how one individual can impact history." --Booklist, starred review


In his meteoric, thirteen-year rise to fame, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a mass movement for Civil Rights -- with his relentless peaceful, non-violent protests, public demonstrations, and eloquent speeches. But as violent threats cast a dark shadow over Dr. King's life, Swanson hones in on James Earl Ray, a bizarre, racist, prison escapee who tragically ends King's life.

As he did in his bestselling Scholastic MG/YA books Chasing LIncoln's Killer and "THE PRESIDENT HAS BEEN SHOT!", Swanson transports readers back to one of the most shocking, sad, and terrifying events in American history.

With an introduction by Congressman John Lewis, and over 80 photographs, captions, bibliography, various source notes, and index included.

384 pages, Hardcover

First published January 2, 2018

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About the author

James L. Swanson

26 books305 followers
James Swanson is the Edgar Award-winning author of the New York Times bestseller Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer. Swanson has degrees in history from the University of Chicago, where he was a student of John Hope Franklin, and in law from the University of California, Los Angeles.

He has held a number of government and think-tank posts in Washington, D.C., including at the United States Department of Justice. Swanson serves on the advisory council of the Ford's Theatre Society. Born on Lincoln's birthday, he has studied and collected books, documents, photographs, art, and artifacts from Abraham Lincoln's life—and death—since he was ten years old.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 229 reviews
Profile Image for Jenny.
269 reviews91 followers
July 8, 2018
My reason for reading this book was the fact that I was attending the Junior League of Richmond’s Author dinner and the author was discussing this book. It was a fast read and didn’t really offer any new information or facts that haven’t been mentioned before. It felt superficial and lacked any in-depth theories about the event.
Profile Image for Cammie.
357 reviews10 followers
January 18, 2020
I was surprised by how much I learned from Chasing King's Killer by James L. Swanson. These important historical details must have been omitted from my studies of American history back in the day.
The background on James Earl Ray was an interesting addition to the information one would expect about Martin Luther King. The extended search for Ray did and did not surprise me considering the times and his criminality. The biggest surprise to me was the behavior and attitudes of other important political figures of the times: Hoover, JFK, and Lyndon Johnson.
Martin Luther King's message and work for the Civil Rights Movement are as important today as they were over 50 years ago, maybe even more so.
Profile Image for Abby Johnson.
3,373 reviews309 followers
January 29, 2018
This is a compelling true crime story in the vein of Swanson's other books for young readers. Hand this one to teens and tweens who like adventure stories and learning about history.
Profile Image for Richie Partington.
1,073 reviews122 followers
January 9, 2018
Richie’s Picks: CHASING KING’S KILLER: THE HUNT FOR MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR’S ASSASSIN by James L. Swanson, Scholastic Press, January 2018, 384p., ISBN: 978-0-545-72333-6

“Rockets, moon shots
Spend it on the have nots
Money, we make it
Fore we see it you take it
Oh, make you wanna holler
The way they do my life”
-- Marvin Gaye, “Inner City Blues” (1971)

“Donald Trump blamed a faulty earpiece Monday for his repeated refusals to disavow the support of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke during a weekend interview.”
--David M. Jackson, USA Today, February 29, 2016

“Hillary Clinton said Trump embraced a ‘racist lie’ and it demonstrated a pattern that carried over from his business practices.
‘Donald started his career back in 1973 being sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination because he would not rent apartments in one of his developments to African-Americans,’ she said.
That’s quite the charge, but is it true?
Yes. It turns out he was.”
--Steve Contorno, PolitiFact September 27. 2016

“President Trump defended the white nationalists who protested in Charlottesville on Tuesday, saying they included ‘some very fine people,’ while expressing sympathy for their demonstration against the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee...Trump defended his slowness to condemn white nationalists and neo-Nazis after the melee in central Virginia, which ended in the death of one woman and injuries to dozens of others, and compared the tearing down of Confederate monuments to the hypothetical removal of monuments to the Founding Fathers.”
--Rosie Gray, The Atlantic, August 17, 2017

“‘What?’ Tonni squeals. ‘Don’t be tellin’ me this isn’t about black or white. It’s always about black or white, and if you don’t think so, it’s because you’re white.”
--James Howe, The Misfits (2001)

I can’t believe that eight years have passed since the publication of James L. Swanson’s memorable CHASING LINCOLN’S KILLER. In 2009, I wrote about that book:

“In the process of reading about the flight and pursuit of Booth and his co-conspirators, we get a great feel for how people lived 140+ years ago: the author fills the fast-moving story with enlightening details about technology, medicine, communications, transportation, politics, and administration of justice...CHASING LINCOLN'S KILLER will have readers asking, ‘Why can't all history books be this exciting?’"

All of those attributes that made CHASING LINCOLN’S KILLER a great read are present in CHASING KING’S KILLER.

CHASING KING’S KILLER begins with the story of the civil rights movement and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s rise to prominence. The author then turns his focus toward the assassin, James Earl Ray, a career criminal who had successfully escaped from a Missouri state penitentiary a year before he murdered Dr. King.

The book tells the minute-by-minute story of how King’s and Ray’s paths converged in 1968 Memphis., As the moment approaches, you just want to scream at everyone to get Dr. King off of that damned balcony!

After murdering Dr. King, James Earl Ray was on the run for two months before finally being captured in London. Details from the early part of the book, which tells about Dr. King and the Movement, help us grasp the roots of the tension that built up between President Johnson, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, and Dr. King’s close associates. Day after day, week after week, as the country impatiently awaited a capture, literally half of the FBI’s agents struggled unsuccessfully to make progress on identifying and tracking down Dr. King’s assassin.

Interestingly, the contrast in law enforcement technology--between 1968 and 2017--that the author depicts in CHASING KING’S KILLER frequently feels like more of a contrast than the difference--between 1865 and 2009--that Swanson portrayed in CHASING LINCOLN’S KILLER. It really highlights the technology of today to which we’ve so quickly become accustomed.

CHASING KING’S KILLER: THE HUNT FOR MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR’S ASSASSIN is, foremost, a riveting true story about the murder of a national hero and the subsequent manhunt for his killer. But below the surface is the story of the racism in America that just won’t die.
“I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
--Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King fought that racism and died from it. His work was far from complete and, fifty years later, economic justice for people of color in America is still sorely lacking. I hated the years of personal attacks against President Obama, and believe that the 2016 election was, in good measure, a backlash against those eight years of having a black man in the White House.

As we approach what would have been Dr. King’s 89th birthday, it’s appropriate to ask: When will America finally solve its racial problems? CHASING KING’S KILLER: THE HUNT FOR MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR’S ASSASSIN is a great read and an outstanding resource for young people of all colors to learn how we got here.

Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com
https://www.facebook.com/richiespicks/
richiepartington@gmail.com
Profile Image for Hillery.
110 reviews
August 5, 2018
Well-crafted and researched nonfiction account of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr - perfect for middle schoolers. Swanson does an excellent job of incorporating primary sources into his text while keeping a strong narrative thread. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Amy.
3,463 reviews78 followers
December 7, 2018
Occasionally a bit dry (but not enough to take it off of 5 stars), but overall, an intriguing look at the events leading up to King's murder, King's assassination, and the manhunt that took place, after.

This book contains easy-to-read chapters, copies of original speeches, maps, photographs, FBI wanted posters, and more! Even though the book is technically 373 pages long, only the first 255 pages are the "story." The rest of the pages are dedicated to "Places to Visit," and for Further Study - a Federal Holiday Chronology, a timeline of James Earl Ray Arrests, Prison Record, and Escapes, detailed Source Notes, a Bibliography, and an Index.

To kick-off this book, Swanson writes about an actual assassination attempt where King was stabbed, by a crazy woman, ten years prior to his murder. There was so much that could have gone wrong (after he was stabbed) that he was lucky to have those extra 10 years!

In 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr. split the Civil Rights Movement. King came out and strongly vocalized his opposition to the Vietnam War. Swanson wrote that it was risky for King to link his opposition to the Vietnam War to the Civil Rights Movement. "In fact, his antiwar stance divided the movement. Many black leaders and rank-and-file supporters criticized him. Shouldn't he, they asked, continue to devote his time and energy to the cause of civil rights at home rather than to a foreign conflict? The journey from slavery to freedom was not over, and there were still important battles to be fought and won. Why did he want to distract the movement now at this crucial moment and divert his efforts to a new cause? Many black leaders worried that King was taking the spotlight off their core mission: civil rights for African Americans." Also, it was this declaration by King that fractured his relationship with Lyndon Johnson.

The whole set-up and assassination as it related to James Earl Ray, from the time he broke out of prison, was most interesting. Also, the part about Ray's escape and how long it took for authorities to catch him was equally engrossing. Learning about how [relatively] easy it was for Ray to travel between countries (even flying overseas) and knowing how things work today with passports was fascinating.

Even though King's murder was a local crime (at this time, Murder was not a federal offense), the FBI investigated the crime as a Civil Rights violation. On an interesting note, J. Edgar Hoover, the Head of the FBI, did not like King and seemed to be most interested in taking him down a peg. He even went so far as to wiretap and conduct surveillance against King. Hoover had also harassed King. What is most interesting about this is that Hoover did not have the legal ability to spy on King. For this, he needed authorization from his boss, who just happened to be the Attorney General of the United States, who in this case happened to be Bobby Kennedy. Oh what tangled webs we weave ...

The Epilogue told a lot, especially about what happened to many of the main characters in this book, after King's assassination. I sincerely believe that James Earl Ray should have received the death penalty for his role, but because he plead guilty, ...

Also, King's death was not the end of the horror for the King family. What happened to King's mother, Alberta, was just as devastating, but you'll have to read the book to learn more!

Finally, after reading all of this, King knew that people wanted him dead, and yet, he went out on the hotel's balcony like he didn't have a care in the world. Why?

Also, I often ask myself where would our country be if Lincoln had not been assassinated, or Kennedy, or Martin Luther King, Jr. What different paths would our country have taken?



Profile Image for Heidi.
2,615 reviews52 followers
February 20, 2018
Swanson has written another compelling narrative account of a heinous crime. Just as in his two previous assassination accounts, Swanson gives the reader both the before and after of King's assassination. He starts with the account of an attack on King that I'd never heard of before. An attack that nearly killed him ten years before his actual assassination. Dr. King's work in the civil rights movement truly made him a target and he knew it. But he didn't let it stop him from continuing his efforts. While the book is not a full length biography of Martin Luther King Jr. Swanson does provide enough information to give the reader context and understanding as to why someone might want to kill the man.


After introducing the reader to the target of the assassination, Swanson introduces the reader to the assassin himself, James Earl Ray. While some conspiracy theorists may continue to wonder and speculate about Ray and whether he was innocent or part of a larger plan, Swanson shares the evidence the makes it clear that Ray was indeed the killer, and most likely worked alone. Using a plethora of sources (which are thoroughly documented at the end of the book), Swanson walks the reader through the days leading up to the assassination and the days following. It was fascinating reading about Ray's escape and the FBI's work to find him. What I found truly shocking though was the violence that broke out after King's murder. I had no idea there had been so much violence, especially considering King's nonviolent stand. The book walks the reader past the violence, past the funeral, past Ray's sentencing, followed by his ongoing efforts to prove his innocence and his escape attempts.

The photographs provide a particularly powerful picture of events shared in the book. But after all is said and done, after the burial, and the sentencing, and everything else, one question remains: why did Ray kill Martin Luther King, Jr.? We will likely never know as Ray spent the remaining years of his life denying that he'd done it at all.
Profile Image for Amy.
844 reviews44 followers
December 10, 2017
Disclaimer: ARC provided by Scholastic. Book is scheduled to go on sale January 2018.

Summary

Readers, teachers, and librarians who are already familiar with the young readers’ adaptations of Chasing Lincoln’s Killer and “The President Has Been Shot” will welcome this addition to the series.

This book is divided into four parts: the first part is a recap of the civil rights movement and King’s leadership; the second part gives background on King’s assassin, James Earl Ray; the third part explains the minute-to-minute circumstances of King’s murder; the fourth section deals with the FBI investigation to capture and detain Ray.

Appeal

With short chapters, plentiful images, and crisp writing, this book intends to appeal to a younger teen audience. The content may be too lurid for some readers-- such an emphasis on King’s assassination and relatively little attention paid to the progress of the civil rights movement does not make for a happy read.

Possible Issues with Comprehension

There’s a lot of ground covered in relatively few pages, so readers might have a hard time absorbing what’s here between Ray’s whereabouts, excerpt from King’s speeches, and interesting sidenotes like J. Edgar Hoover’s intimidation campaign, King’s meeting with Malcolm X, and his continued commitment to nonviolence and antiwar efforts.

I wish the book included some other methods of communicating information (infographics, maps, sidebars, print examples of secondary sources) to help tell the story.

Recommended for

Readers who enjoy conspiracy theories and more extreme aspects of history. I secretly wish there were a book that was just about the FBI’s intimidation campaign against Martin Luther King that was written for teens -- I don’t think that book exists, but Marc Aronson did write a YA biography on J. Edgar Hoover!

I’ll return to this book when conversations about YALSA’s nonfiction awards start up again.
Profile Image for Corinne.
1,011 reviews2 followers
November 6, 2018
The pictures interspersed throughout the book were far more interesting than the book itself, and I did like that Swanson frames King's assassination story with the first and lesser known attempt on his life, when he was stabbed with a letter opener near the heart. It lent some context to the dangers King was facing and the stress of constant threats.

I think Swanson was trying to make his writing accessible to teens, but it felt simplistic and condescending. The writer and his opinions are really front and center, but it would have taken minimal effort for a smoother delivery. He specifically has to tell you that certain events were heartbreaking, that the assassin was a terrible person, etc. At length.

In contrast, tons of details are omitted: How did the police actually find the room the shot was fired from in order to search it? What on earth was James Earl Ray touching that he left a huge, visible hand print on the bathroom wall (gunpowder?), and why would he leave it there and risk it as evidence later? How does he get information on what countries to go to and which ones will give him back to the U.S. without rousing suspicion?

The manhunt has a few interesting details on how difficult a search was pre-computer database, but otherwise we're left with a lot of buildup and then, "And no one knows why he did it and he never said!" Swanson acknowledges that the motive was likely money, but dismisses the idea that someone powerful may have paid Swanson to do it, the only explanation being that his conspiracy theories were inconsistent and claimed his innocence (unsurprising, he wants to get out of prison or at least make money in prison). No information was given on why these committees ultimately decided that the FBI had harassed MLK and goaded him to commit suicide but definitely didn't kill him. No information was given on the many wealthy people who had bounties out for MLK and if any had connections to James Earl Ray. There are just....no answers.
Profile Image for Leslie Fitzpatrick.
240 reviews4 followers
February 2, 2021
I really like the way Swanson writes, it's like you're watching an episode of dateline or something. I didn't know that it took so long to find James Earl Ray, I actually didn't even know his name, I've never given much attention to the killer although I knew King was assassinated. The circumstances are so ridiculous, but Ray WAS a lifetime criminal so I guess he knew how to live a life on the run and stay in hiding pretty well. It's such a shame that there are so many people in the world who wish to snuff out a bright light like King. So at the end of this book I realized this is part of a trilogy, I've already read "Chasing Lincoln's killer" so I'm sorta compelled to finish out the trilogy, except I think I already know way too much about Kennedy's assassination after reading "11/22/63" so I'm undecided right now.
This is a good book for anyone who enjoys learning about history, especially civil rights and the 1960s. I love how it included so many pictures. I don't think anything could make it better.
Profile Image for Becky.
827 reviews15 followers
June 8, 2018
Swanson does a good job of summing up King's work in a fairly short amount of space in the first part, and the play by play of the assassination was quite suspenseful. I do wish he'd spent a little more time talking about Ray at the end with details of how he fed conspiracy theories from prison. There was more of this in the source notes, but I doubt young readers will go looking there.
Profile Image for Barbara.
12.9k reviews265 followers
March 29, 2018
It's hard to believe that so many years have passed since James Earl Ray assassinated civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968. But the decades have flown swiftly, and the fact of the matter is that Ray's motivations for his actions are still unclear. In this thoroughly-researched and engaging book, James Swanson describes the final days of King's life and the collision course with his killer. Readers will be fascinated to learn about Ray's swift evacuation from Memphis and how close he came to getting away with the crime, traveling to Canada and Europe in hopes of reaching Africa where he hoped to become a mercenary. The descriptions of King's final hours, Ray's preparation for the deed, and then later, the FBI's and other law enforcement agencies' involvement in solving the crime, are intriguing and prompt thought about how much more efficient this process has become with modern innovations. As he captures the flavor of the times through descriptions and King's speeches, Swanson also debunks the conspiracy theories that swirled around King's murder. Incredibly, there seems to be little evidence that anyone else was involved, leaving readers to shake their heads in sadness at what this one man with a long history of small crimes brought to an end and to wonder about what might have been had King lived on. Fans of the author's earlier Chasing Lincoln's Killer and "The President Has Been Shot!" will enjoy this one just as much, if not more, as those. Although the book covers territory previously covered in other accounts, it also offers new information as well as several archival photographs. I felt as though I were right there on the scene in every passage in this book and had to remind myself that i was living in 2018 and not the tumultuous year of 1968.
20 reviews2 followers
December 10, 2018

The book Chasing King’s Killer is about Martin luther king and a guy named James Earl Ray. The book started at king starting the revolution and then it talked about all connections that king made with the president of the United States. In the book they went back and forth between King and James. In the end they talked more about James and how he planed how to kill King. In the end of the book It talked about how the FBI chased James and what led to his capture.
The word racist is the main word in the book. The book talked about how king is getting rid of all the racist laws that are against blacks. The dictionary defines racist as someone that bases people on there color of their skin. It is so important to the book because King is just trying to make america better for the blacks himself. King did not want glory he wanted peace.
This book is interesting in the beginning I thought that it was going to be a dumb book when the teacher required us to read a non-fiction book for December. In the end it is perfect for the people who likes adventure and action in a book. I would recommend anyone who is interested in history or adventure because this is a book that follows kings life and the killer named James earl ray.
12 reviews
January 31, 2022
This book starts with the early life of Martin Luther King Jr, explaining his rise to fame and his ideology and struggles. Midway through the book, it begins to explain the life that King's killer took in order to collide with King later in life, and eventually assassinate him.

I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would, I kind of figured I knew most of what it was going to tell me but actually gave me a lot more insight into what was going on during King's life. It was entertaining, surprising for a biography, it has new information that most people don't know, and it does well at explaining it in terms the general population can understand. The images the book gives help to visualize the situation and what it looked like, investing the reader further into the story. I was dreading reading this but was pleasantly surprised to find a fun and informational read. The only flaw I would say it had was that it felt a little opinionated in some aspects when describing civil rights leaders, but other than that I would fully recommend this book.
Profile Image for Brittany.
725 reviews25 followers
November 19, 2017
This book is so fascinating. A difficult topic for sure, but the incredibly specific details had me racing sections aloud to people around me, constantly. I learned so much, and I consider myself very well-read when it comes to Dr. King and civil rights in the 60's.

Most fascinating was the doctor's reports of how they treated King at the hospital and the photos and details documenting his funeral and celebration service.

I was also enthralled by the coincidences and turns of fate pointed out by Swanson: King's attempted assassination in 1958, Ray's escape from prison, the connection to RFK...so many twists.

The photos and copies of documents were equally interesting. A truly educational and entertaining book.
Profile Image for Rachel Grover.
683 reviews3 followers
May 5, 2018
Absolutely incredible. Filled with primary source photographs and an extensive appendix/back matter, James Swanson does it again, this time retelling the dramatic (and not so dramatic) events leading up to and following the death of Martin Luther King Jr. I was thoroughly impressed with the structure of the book, as well as how fast the story read, considering it's nonfiction. Looking forward to reading much more from him! Will purchase multiple copies for my middle school library.
Profile Image for Fly.
123 reviews4 followers
August 4, 2022
This book didn't know whether it wanted to be a biography of Dr. King, a biography of his killer, an investigation of the FBI manhunt that captured him, or an examination of the aftermath of King's death. As a result in didn't reach depth on any of these topics and read like a Wikipedia article. Luckily I happen to like Wiki articles :) 3.5/5, rounded up for the hell of it
Profile Image for Chris.
55 reviews11 followers
March 4, 2018
An excellent book and, just a month before the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. King's assassination, an eerie and harrowing read. Well-written, beautifully designed, and contains one of the more remarkable and comprehensive bibliographies you will find on King and the Civil Rights era.
Profile Image for Jks.
110 reviews4 followers
June 6, 2018
The story answered so many questions I never thought to ask about MLK’s murder. I had no idea he had survived a earlier attempt. I did not know his mother had been assassinated in church at church. This story will keep your attention.
Profile Image for Ms. Hauer.
31 reviews
March 27, 2018
One of the best books I’ve read this year. I’m so glad students will have the opportunity to read this book!
Profile Image for Allison.
668 reviews45 followers
October 17, 2019
This was great, I really enjoyed the audiobook as well. I did end up looking through the actual book at the pictures which I thought were a great addition to the story.
Profile Image for Julie Suzanne.
1,870 reviews66 followers
October 10, 2021
I give the audiobook 3 stars because the narrative itself just wasn't as compelling and exciting as his Lincoln's Killer one was, but the print format almost takes it up a notch because its format is engaging with its relevant photographs spaced at just the right time to break up text.

Readers will learn all the details of King's assassination and the manhunt for James Earl Ray with a ton of context in the first part of the book. I have it in my middle school library, but I don't think any of my students will be able to access it as the vocabulary and concepts are at a much higher level. Complex ideas are not explained and Swanson rarely chooses a wordier explanation when he could use the exact precise vocabulary. I'd recommend this to high school and adult readers, but a documentary would achieve the same goals. It was disappointing to get no answers as to why James Earl Ray shot King.
Profile Image for Aroen.
23 reviews1 follower
Read
September 23, 2019
This book is a great book! Its about the olden days where Martin Luther King Jr was alive and his killer. It also talks about what he grew up has and how his life has been throughout the years of segregation.
Profile Image for Kim Bahr.
560 reviews4 followers
May 13, 2018
Swanson helps readers understand the time period, the people, and the historic events. Very engaging read!
Profile Image for Karen.
212 reviews5 followers
September 15, 2019
How have I missed this author and series?  Chasing King's Killer:  The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Assassin by James L Swanson brings history to life for students.  And my understanding is that Swanson's other books from this series are even better.  The historical photos found throughout are amazing and enhance the already engaging text.


grade:  A
audience:  middle grade, middle school, junior high, high school


Quotes/Author:
President:  "Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men's skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact."

Kennedy "reluctant Civil Rights warrior"

"LBJ proved to be an enthusiastic supporter of civil rights."  411

King "had never seen such vicious hatred, not even in the Deep South"  524

new campaign, "fight for social justice for people of all races, for economic equality, and for world peace."

"many hardware stores and department stores sold firearms" 838

"allowed me to go up to the mountain.  And I've looked over.   And I've seen the promised land."  952

"For the rest of his life, Ray sowed confusion and spread disinformation about the assassination."  1857

Abernathy criticized "for portraying his old friend not falsely as a perfect saint but truthfully as a human being."  1867

JFK once said "Every man can make a difference, and every man should try."



Possible Cautions:
Prejudice, racism, death, criminal, prison, escape, assassination, murder, civil rights, violence, war

Detailed Notes:
/////// SPOILERS /////// SPOILERS /////// SPOILERS ///////
read beginning to location 365
1963
Sept 15 Baptist Church, Birmingham, AL, 4 young girls bombed and killed when attending Sunday School
created increased sympathy for the Civil Rights movement
November 22, JFK killed
MLK said same would happen to him
Johnson now President, from Texas
President:  "Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men's skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact."
Kennedy "reluctant Civil Rights warrior"
"LBJ proved to be an enthusiastic supporter of civil rights."  411
1964
July 2, Civil Rights Act, public accommodations, employment, voting
August 4, 3 civil rights workers killed
October 14, MLK wins the Nobel Peace Prize
Hoover and Sullivan (FBI) tell MLK to kill self before Nobel ceremony or they will expose him
one of King's people was an FBI spy
age 35, MLK youngest to receive the award
1965
Feb 21, Malcolm X killed
Mar 7, 50 mile march Selma to Montgomery
Edmund Pettus Bridge
Bloody Sunday
Mar 21, try again with protection of the National Guard, white volunteer murdered
Aug 6, Voting Rights Act of 1965
Aug 11, 5 day riot in Watts
1966
Chicago one of the most segregated cities in America
King "had never seen such vicious hatred, not even in the Deep South"  524
younger activists disagree with non-violence and are more casual in approach
June, Stokely Carmichael uses slogan "Black Power" for 1st time
October, Black Panther Party for self defense formed
time for blacks to fight back and defend selves
1967, Vietnam War
MLK opposed to Vietnam War
new campaign, "fight for social justice for people of all races, for economic equality, and for world peace."
others concern MLK is splitting his focus
looks unpatriotic
made President mad
1968
James Earl Ray escapes prison in April
minor criminal
James' dad was an ex-convict
mom was 19 when he was born oldest of 9 kids
disadvantages from beginning of life
drop out of school
joined Army but often in trouble until discharged
family band together as a criminal gang
crimes, in and out of prison
had never done political or racial violence or hate crimes
side lines of civil rights
just wanted easy money
1959
20 year prison sentence for habitual crime
move every few weeks across US, Canada, and Mexico
only concerned with himself
1967
escape prison
1968
Tet Offensive
MLK against war
Lyndon Johnson lower opinion
plastic surgery
Mar 17, decided to kill MLK
had never killed anyone before
at that time, easy to buy gun
"many hardware stores and department stores sold firearms" 838
Mar 31, LBJ not run for re-election
King had given last sermon
James bought a rifle
Apr 3, James and MLK both in Memphis
King's 3rd trip to Memphis and 3rd attempt to lead the march
2 black sanitation workers were crushed in their truck, not supported
city of Memphis wanted to harm to come to King
speech, MLK wants to live life
"allowed me to go up to the mountain.  And I've looked over.   And I've seen the promised land."  952
April 4, James got hotel room number of MLK form photo in the newspaper
James checked into rooming house across from MLKs hotel
decided to shoot from bathroom down the hall, better odds
MLK on balcony waiting to go to dinner
James used scope
6:01, shot MLK
off duty police and 2 undercover were at firehouse - one saw MLK shot
James out of rooming house and sees cars of police on break
panics and ditches suitcase and rifle
James gone in 5 minutes, before ambulance arrived, before police seal exits
dispatcher didn't know about rooming house until James was already gone
6:07 weapon found and reported
6:10 suspect in white mustang
ambulance at that time was only used for transport, no medical until hospital
6:13 several witnesses refuse to make a statement
many King's associates were uncooperative at that period of history, blacks were fearful or suspicious of police
King's people thought maybe the police were involved; otherwise how would they have gotten there so quickly
6:14 arrive at hospital
King still alive
pupils, no reaction to light, many things wrong with MLK
6:16 too many police using radios so couldn't hear
6:20 MLK critical
6:34 stop white mustang, false alarm
6:35 white mustang seen exceeding speed limit, white mustang shooting at car behind, was all a hoax
historical photos through the book are AMAZING!
6:35 to 6:49 wild goose chase/prank
7:05 announced MLK dead at age 39
doctors tried many things
James encountered road blocks
used back roads, Mississippi
while driving to Atlanta , MLK's hometown, James tossed his remaining belongings
leadership passed to Abernathy
LBJ crushed
anger, riots, violence, death, fire
business destroyed= social unrest across US
Kennedy's brother, Robert, gave his best speech ever in Indianapolis and that town did not riot that night
Robert had signed an order that allowed FBI to surveillance on King
J Edgar hoover had secret files on everyone
J Edgar hoover ordered to track the killer
although Hoover hated MLK, he knew he had to do his best to find his killer
FBI found six fingerprints
James jumped town to town
bullet was too damaged for a positive ID
as matched to found gun
to Canada and then to Toronto
found names of people of right age and called to see if they had passport, he wanted a Canadian passport
Apr 10, dumped white car reported to police
Apr 11, car seized by FBI, 60,000 people at MLK's viewing
Apr 7, National Day of Mourning by LBJ
Apr 8, Coretta and others led strike
Apr 9, funeral at church and then memorial service at black church, then body laid to rest
120 million people watched funeral on TV
for years, people would display photos or memorials for MLK at businesses, on a pin, on clothing, hand fans
pulled by police for jaywalking but they didn't check his ID
Apr 17, FBI's first wanted poster with James' watch FBI show and seeesalias
fingerprints ID'd as James
Apr 19, release 2nd wanted poster with James' name
Apr 20, 3rd poster, ID as MLK's killer
Apr 21, James watches FBI show and sees his own picture
May 6, fly to London
wanted to go to African, no extradition, but didn't have enough money so go to London
May 8, to Portugal
wanted to become a soldier for hire in Angola but would take 7 days
May 17, Ray flew to Lisbon to London
May 27, tried to rob jewelry store
Jun 1, Canada found passport that could be James'
largest/most expensive manhunt in FBI history
Jun 4, James hold up bank, left a note with his thumb print
Senator Robert Kennedy shot and died on Jun 6
Jun 7, ticket London to Brussels, customs nearly waved him through again
nearly let go until they found a gun on him
were times that different?  or was someone not doing their job?
Jun 8, Kennedy funeral, James captured
Jul 18, James returned to US
106 days since MLKs death
15 months since prison escape
James refuses to confess
James thought he would be a hero and acquitted
eventually he admitted guilty because his lawyers were all crap
sentence to 99 years
conspiracy theory
Why did James murder MLK?  maybe want to leave his mark by doing something big; James was racist and white supremacist but had never participated in any civil right things; money?  looking for a reward
Dec 21, 1968, Apollo, first manned mission to orbit the moon
this year is the 50th anniversary of his death, would have been 89 years old
Issues today:  nation perpetuates racial, segregation in education housing public transportation restaurants and employment
economic justice includes disparities in employment, criminal justice
Black Lives Matter
voter ID
voting rights
racially motivated shootings
women and girls rights are limited around the world
James escaped prison AGAIN but was captured after three days
"For the rest of his life, Ray sowed confusion and spread disinformation about the assassination."  1857
Ray died in 1998
Abernathy wrong book, criticized "for portraying his old friend not falsely as a perfect saint but truthfully as a human being."  1867
JFK once said "Every man can make a difference, and every man should try."
Places to visit
1/2 of the book is after the epilogue
Profile Image for Avery Watkins.
249 reviews
October 9, 2018
Such a good book! I learned so much! Just the right amount of names, dates, places, facts, along with pictures and descriptions to tell the tale. It read like a thriller mystery that I couldn't put down. It did a nice job connecting other major events of the time as well.
4 reviews
March 22, 2021
A thought out book review
After reading Chasing King’s Killer, a non-fiction book about the events revolving around Martin Luther King Jr’s death, I would have to say that I am quite satisfied with Swanson’s work. The book gave enough incite for the reader to understand what was going on all throughout the world around the time of MLK’s life, and even a little before then.
The book starts out describing a trip to New York City that King would be talking to sign books and giving speeches. As he was signing books ,in the Blumstein bookstore, a hostile person came up to King and stabbed him. This injury of King’s would end up being life threatening and even the slightest cough or sneeze would have caused a terrible death: “No one on the scene knew it, but the blade was so close to King’s aorta that any sudden expansion of his chest...could have pushed the main artery of the heart directly into the point of the blade” (Swanson 10). After this scene it mentions MLK’s recovery and how he had a lot of work coming in the next few years. From that point on the book backtracks a little to King’s early life and explains how he experienced racism. From there the story follows the life of both Martin Luther King and James Earl Ray. James Earl Ray escapes prison and stays on the west coast for the most part until he gets the idea to assassinate MLK. I’ll have to stop there because so many events happened in this book. I would have to say that I learned a lot while reading this book, and I hope to find something else similar to this.
Overall I thought that this book was decent. One part of the book I especially liked was how the author would show the lives of MLK and James Earl Ray next to each other. As James was living his life low in California, the author would contrast his life to King’s. King would be giving these speeches in major cities while Ray was oddly getting bartending lessons on the West coast. I thought that this style of writing gave me an easier understanding as to what was happening in the book. Something that I didn't like about the book was the fact that the author wouldn't elaborate on some parts of the book that I wish he would. At the end of the book the author goes into little detail about life after King’s death. I feel like if the author went into more detail I would have enjoyed the book a little bit more. Also the part where it mentions James Earl Ray kills King, I wish he went into more detail in that area as well.
I would rate this book a four stars out of 5. Obviously the book was very good however, non-fiction books really aren't my thing. It was a little hard to formulate connections and start conversation because it was a non-fiction book, and these types of books are something that I am not familiar with. The author does a superb job writing the book he makes sure to include enough information on what was happening during MLK’s life, which helped paint the picture. Lastly the book was entertaining which caused me to continue reading, and not get bored after reading a few pages.
In conclusion, I would definitely recommend this book to others. The style that the author used to contrast the lives of both MLK and James Earl Ray really worked. I feel like it also made the book a lot more interesting. The book wasn't boring so it actually engages the reader, which makes them want to read more and more. I would say that this book is targeted towards people who enjoy history and reading non-fiction books.


Swanson, James L. Chasing King's Killer: the Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Assassin. Scholastic
Press, 2018.
Profile Image for Liz Friend.
968 reviews79 followers
March 26, 2018
The story: Read the true story of how James Earl Ray stalked and murdered Martin Luther King, Jr. Gives details about the life of the great civil rights leader, and about the career criminal who, for reasons unknown, decided to murder him.

June Cleaver's ratings: Language G; Violence PG-13; Sexual content G; Nudity G; Substance abuse G; Magic & the occult G; GLBT content G; adult themes (racism, prejudice, murder, civil rights abuses) PG-13; overall rating PG-13.

Liz's comments: The rating is due more to the fact that most middle-school kids just aren't going to sit down and read this kind of book by choice. It will be a hit, though, with any reader who prefers real-life crime drama to fiction.
Profile Image for Cindy Mitchell *Kiss the Book*.
6,001 reviews178 followers
July 10, 2019
Chasing King’s Killer by James L. Swanson, 251 pages. NON-FICTION. Scholastic Press (Scholastic Inc), 2018. $19.99

Language: PG (1 swear, 0 “f”); Mature Content: PG; Violence: PG13

BUYING ADVISORY: HS – OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

Martin Luther King, Jr. may have lived over half a century ago, but his is still a familiar name. His work in the Civil Rights movement continues to impact those today. In this book, Swanson details the events that made Dr. King so well-known, that caused his death, and that occurred as his murderer was found and arrested.

While I have learned many things in school about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I was enlightened by the context and details that Swanson gives his readers. I have been hit with recognition that this is still only recent history. We are still not living Dr. King’s dream—how can we contribute to his work today? As the late President Kennedy said, “Every man can make a difference, and every man should try.”

Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen
https://kissthebook.blogspot.com/2019...
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