Books: Theory Fails to Convince; Act of State. by William F Pepper (Verso, Pounds 17)

Article excerpt

Byline: Reviewed by Simon Evans

That black people in the US now enjoy freedom of assembly, the vote and equal rights, is very much due to Martin Luther King, and the civil rights movement he led so effectively during the Sixties.

When Dr King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 it represented the end of an era to millions of black people. But even before his death, King, the advocate of non-violent resistance, had already lost ground to the violent militancy of the Black Panther movement. His murder merely confirmed, for many blacks, that sit-ins and marches didn't work any more.

Although memories of that period have faded it's worth remembering that, in challenging the injustice of American society, Martin Luther King was inevitably going to become a target for those vested interests that jealously protected white power and privilege.

The central thesis of Pepper's book - that King's murder was the product of a conspiracy between organised crime, the FBI, CIA, the military and the Memphis police department - should therefore come as no great surprise. That the book ultimately fails to convince is not so much down to the evidence of a conspiracy - there is certainly plenty of that - but the manner in which the case is presented.

Right from the very first paragraph, and Pepper's assertion that it was he alone who opened King's mind to the atrocities being perpetrated by American soldiers in Vietnam, you know you're in trouble.

At the time Pepper was a humble freelance journalist, one voice among many urging Dr King to speak out on the issue. This egotism and selfaggrandisement recurs throughout the book and, ultimately, detracts from the very real (although by no means watertight) case Pepper makes for the conspiracy to kill King.

Pepper argues that it was both King's opposition to the war in Vietnam, and his campaign against the widening gap between rich and poor that mobilised these various forces against him. In particular, he points to his plans to lead half a million poor people on a march to the capital and the very real fear, in government circles, that with so many troops fighting in Indo-China there could even be a revolution on the streets of Washington. …