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The Awful Grace of God: Religious Terrorism, White Supremacy, and the Unsolved Murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Hardcover)
There are many books coming out these days on the assassinations of the 60s, as well as other events from that era, and actions of the US government. One of the reasons is that so much is beginning to have its secrecy lifted. Enough time has passed and enough of the actors have died that keeping it under covers makes little sense. What these books have in common is that they give us a much richer view of what was going on around us during those tumultuous days.
The Awful Grace of God by Stuart Wexler and Larry Hancock is one such book. The subtitle is “Religious Terrorism, White Supremacy, and the Unsolved Murder of Martin Luther King, Jr”. Their aim is less to try to solve the crime as much as it is to place it within the context of the racial violence that took place four decades ago – and then to tie it to religious and racial violence that still takes place.
First, concerning the assassination of King, the authors do a fine job laying out the questions that linger over the shooting of Dr. King. They do a good job laying out the case for Ray being part of a conspiracy, perhaps as a patsy, perhaps as a lower level flunky caught up in fast-moving events and abandoned as the convenient ‘gunman’. Ultimately, they make no concrete claim but write about how the government needs to reopen this case and give it the investigation it deserves.
One aspect that needs clarification is James Earl Ray’s finances. Time and again, the authors write about how he was a known cheapskate, how he guarded his money carefully, yet he traveled widely in the months before the assassination and seems to have spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars on various deals, enterprises and trips. Where’d it come from? They don’t adequately address the issue of his finances before, or after, Memphis.
What they do provide is a vivid and complex story of how advanced and continental in scope the white supremecists were, and how unsuspecting the authorities were about its tactics and abilities. The authors bring up notorious cases – the Birmingham Church bombing and the “Mississippi Burning” murders - not as isolated cases but as battles in a much larger war. They trace other attempts on King and successful attacks on others, like Evers, and show the breadth of the fight that the far right/lilly white/christian extremists were waging. And what is most strange and frightening about all of this is that these yahoos were convinced that they could start a religious/racial holy war in which they would be proven to be the superior people, God’s chosen.
Sound like anyone else who has been in the news in the last decade? (I kept waiting for them to invoke Helter Skelter, but Charlie Manson didn’t get mentioned.)
While the authors do make trenchant analogies to the battles being fought against Islamic extremists, they do let slide the continuing ‘war’ between the government and violent Christian extremists: the Olympic bomber, those who shoot doctors or bomb clinics, and advocate the overthrow of the government by violent means. Then, too, they don’t point to the progression of this hate-filled ideology past the King assassination.
Out of this same vicious wing of zealots came Richard Butler and the Aryan Nations of Idaho. Recall that they supported themselves with armed robbery, at least one of which took place at a bank in Seattle’s Northgate shopping center. Into the 1980s, factions were still thinking that they could provoke a race war.
It is a fight that never ends.
But it brings to mind the Bob Marley song: “How long will they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?”
The Awful Grace of God by Stuart Wexler and Larry Hancock is an interesting book if you’re looking for the dark history of our nation and how we got to where we are today.— JB
The Awful Grace of God chronicles a multi-year effort to kill Martin Luther King Jr. by a group of the nation’s most violent right-wing extremists. Impeccably researched and thoroughly documented, this examines figures like Sam Bowers, head of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of Mississippi, responsible for more than three hundred separate acts of violence in Mississippi alone; J.B. Stoner, who ran an organization that the California attorney general said was more active and dangerous than any other ultra-right organization;” and Reverend Wesley Swift, a religious demagogue who inspired two generations of violent extremists.
United in a holy cause to kill King, this network of racist militants were the likely culprits behind James Earl Ray and King’s assassination in Memphis on April 4th, 1968.
King would be their ultimate prizea symbolic figure whose assassination could foment an apocalypse that would usher in their Kingdom of God, a racially pure” white world.
Hancock and Wexler have sifted through thousands of pages of declassified and never-before-released law enforcement files on the King murder, conducted dozens of interviews with figures of the period, and re-examined information from several recent cold case investigations. Their study reveals a terrorist network never before described in contemporary history. They have unearthed data that was unavailable to congressional investigators and used new data-mining techniques to extend the investigation begun by the House Select Committee on Assassinations.
The Awful Grace of God offers the most comprehensive and up-to-date study of the King assassination and presents a roadmap for future investigation.
About the Author
Stuart Wexler was born and raised in New Jersey. He graduated from Tulane
University with a degree in history. He now lives and teaches high school in New Jersey, where he won the prestigious James Madison Teachers' Fellowship in 2010.
Larry Hancock was raised in Oklahoma and graduated from the University of
New Mexico with a triple major in anthropology, history, and education. He has worked on a variety of historical research projects, including November Patriots and Someone Would Have Talked. He lives in Oklahoma.
Praise for The Awful Grace of God
A timely study.” Kirkus
A step in the [right] direction of a better understanding of a national tragedy.” Booklist