Hellhound On His Trail / Vernon Can Read – BONUS POST

The first Bonus Book of the Week is “Hellhound On His Trail, The Electrifying Account of the Largest Manhunt in American History” by Hampton Sides, published in 2010.

“He’d been jailed eighteen times. His house had been fire-bombed. He’d been stabbed by a deranged black woman, punched in the face by a Nazi, and struck in the head with a rock. He’d marched [facing] tear gas, police dogs, cattle prods, and water cannons… he’d been burned in effigy. And everywhere he went, the FBI was on his tail, watching, listening.”

NOT Trump. Martin Luther King, Jr.

With this scholarly but readable work, the author suspensefully recounted King’s assassination story, trying to be fair and objective, poring over reams of primary-source documents and personally conversing with people who were there, in order to make an accurate assessment of the incident, and its historical context.

Sadly, the current trend in American book-publishing is producing a large percentage of works that appeal to readers seeking confirmation of their narrow-minded beliefs– such as books (usually by hate-spewing pundits) that scream lies, smears and conspiracies; or prolonged rants whose sole purpose is to serve as catharses for their authors; or fantasy panaceas by authors who oversimplify complex issues in one tidy volume.

Authors such as Sides, however, who do their homework in revisiting a major historical event decades later, are more likely to get it right. Authors who describe major public figures who are still active in their careers, are more likely to provide a more biased account because:

  • history is still unfolding on those individuals.
  • when a public figure has been retired or dead for a few decades, there accumulates a sizable body of information (including primary sources– people who talk about them, videos of interviews, etc., and documents that become declassified) that tells the public about them, created by both their friends and enemies. They contain 20/20 hindsight and show how history has treated them.
  • If a public figure is still alive and actively managing their career, they’re also going to be actively managing their image– trying to suppress bad publicity, which might spur the opposition to smear them more.

Anyway, King developed a reputation for pushing for social change through nonviolence. He opposed the funding of a pro-civil-rights youth group called the Invaders, because they wanted to get violent. At the time, he was the best-known activist preaching peaceful protest. In April 1968, he was killed by a white person, so other black civil-rights activists lost their patience with nonviolence.

King was shot by an ultra-powerful hunting rifle. The one and only bullet, which was going 2,670 feet per second, hit his neck from a distance of 205 feet. The ammunition was specially made to do maximum damage to mercifully kill animals. The rifle magnified objects by seven times, so the killer perceived King to be only thirty feet away.

The killer used fake names and addresses wherever he went, because in the 1960’s, people were more trusting, and no photo IDs were required to stay in a hotel room, flophouse or apartment, apply for a Canadian passport (!), or purchase a rifle from a gun store. That last activity for the killer was easy-peasy; in less than five minutes– he had a deadly weapon in his hands, with no background check, no waiting period.

The killer fantasized that the racist, hate-spewing then-presidential candidate George Wallace from Alabama (formerly governor), would completely pardon him. It is easy to see how this mentality bears a resemblance to recent events. However, in the 1960’s, people– angry enough to commit violence and seeking to go out in a blaze of glory– specifically targeted influential leaders.

In recent decades, more and more violence has been perpetrated by individuals angry at the world— who kill innocent strangers. So more and more ordinary Americans who have nothing to do with perpetrating the violence, are at risk of becoming victims of it. Here is a testament to it: https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/last-72-hours

Investigating the King assassination was a thorny conflict for J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI. For, he had a reputation as a racist, so theoretically, it would have been in his best interest not to find King’s killer. But conspiracy theorists would say he had a hand in the murder. And it was the FBI’s job to root out public enemies, so catching the perpetrator(s) would enhance its image. The manhunt ultimately involved more than 3,500 agents (of a total of about 6,000 agents) and cost almost two million dollars.

Hours after the killing, rioters in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Baltimore and New Jersey set fires and looted or vandalized hundreds of stores. There were hundreds of arrests. Eventually, damage was done to 150 American cities, resulting in forty deaths and 21,000 arrests.

Unsurprisingly, the day after, Jesse Jackson– who was a witness to the shooting– hired a public relations firm and granted a live interview to NBC’s “Today” show.

Anyway, read the book to learn a wealth of additional details about the terror– er, uh tenor, of the times, and about how one person can cause so much trouble.

The second Bonus Book of the Week is “Vernon Can Read, A Memoir” by Vernon E. Jordan, Jr. with Annette Gordon-Reed, published in 2001.

Born in 1935 in Georgia, the African-American Jordan was permitted to become a law clerk immediately after graduating law school, even though he failed the Georgia bar exam (which might have been rigged by his political enemies). He later passed the Arkansas bar exam in 1963, so he was allowed to practice law in Georgia. He built a successful political career serving as a civil-rights lawyer and activist.

In the early 1960’s, Jordan engaged in community organizing for the NAACP, and for the Voter Education Project, which funded voter registration drives of CORE, SCLC, SNCC and NAACP in southern states. The Ku Klux Klan was active there, so blacks were actually under the gun all the time. He helped people of his ethnic group to understand how voting helped them directly.

Ironically, in the early 1970’s, all of the people who did fund-raising for the United Negro College Fund were white, because they were the ones with valuable contacts in high places. Jordan was mentored by a friend as to how to acquire money, power and influence. The two attended an event hosted by an experienced elitist. It was there that the author learned about the various factors required for a successful event, and listed them for the reader.

The Nixon administration was responsive to the National Urban League’s appeals for funding under Jordan’s leadership. However, the Reagan administration cut funding for the Labor Education Advancement Program, which put people to work so that they paid income tax, putting revenue into government coffers. By that time, Jordan sat on the boards of directors of about ten organizations.

Later on, Jordan heard about a proposal for a Ford Foundation-funded black studies exchange program among Duke University, University of North Carolina or other southern schools, that would involve the teachings of Malcolm X. However, he knew the potential funders were only paying lip service to black studies because they themselves wouldn’t think of sending their own kids to such a program.

Read the book to learn a lot more about the author’s experiences, including the time he was shot in the back, and what he accomplished in his life and times.