CNN Special On Dr. King's Assassination

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[40 Years Later]


In "Eye Witness To Murder," CNN revisits the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in Memphis, Tennessee, in a special that airs Thursday night at 9 PM.

Reported by anchor and special correspondent Soledad O'Brien, the presentation is part of a special series, "Black In America," that examines how far the country has traveled in terms of race relations; future episodes look at conditions in the African American community in the 40 years since Dr. King's murder.
In “Eye Witness….” O'Brien retraces the steps of Dr. King; she examines assassin James Earl Ray's background and his path to the murder location; and, she speaks with the investigators involved in the case. She also interviews the killer’s brother ----who has no remorse at all and insists his brother was innocent---- and Dr. King’s top lieutenants, many of whom became major civil rights leaders in their own right, including Andrew Young and John Lewis.

What's most surprising, O’Brien told The Black Star News, is that even after 40 years, many people, including Dr. King’s relatives and former top aides, including Young, either don't believe that Ray was solely responsible for the killing, or that he was even the actual gun man.

O'Brien also spoke about going to the infamous motel where Dr. King was felled and standing near the exact spot. It was an “incredibly strange” and yet rather “ordinary” experience, she told The Black Star, in the sense that even during the taping of the documentary, people were walking by just a few feet below; the motel’s first level balcony is barely an arms-length from the ground.

Yet, she did realize she was “literally  ...standing” on the spot that “changed the course of history,” O’Brien says. For who knows how far already this nation might have travelled had Dr. King lived longer.

Getting to retrace tragic historic events and to speak to the people involved also unearths interesting twists; viewers should watch the special to find out for themselves.

One sample: After Dr. King was shot, a patrolman responded and ran from his car towards the scene of the shooting; but he then answered a radio call and ran back to his car. Ironically, had he not run towards the scene in the first place Ray never would have dumped the bundle, later recovered, that included the evidence that led to his capture—the rifle.

O’Brien caught up with the officer, now in his 70s. To this day, the officer believes Ray would have killed him had their paths crossed—they had come within yards of each other.

There are many reasons why many people don’t believe the final words have been spoken regarding Dr. King’s assassination, not least of which is the fact that even after 18 tests, the rifle can’t be “definitely” confirmed as the murder weapon.

When O’Brien asked the prosecutor about alternative scenarios of the assassination, she was told, "it's really hard to keep a conspiracy for such a long time," under wraps. "Yet," while it's a reasonable answer, O’Brien conceded, "it's not a strong answer."

O'Brien was reminded by The Black Star of the irony, that the CNN special, "Black In America," launches at a time when presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama has called for an open discussion about race, in his March 18 speech.

The senator’s historic speech has been favorably compared by some people to some of Dr. King’s past speeches; Obama made his speech following the furor sparked by the wide broadcast of videotape snippets of a sermon by his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Wright, in often vitriolic language denounced many U.S. government policies, both domestic and foreign.

"Regardless of what Barack Obama said in his speech," O'Brien noted, with some humor, "We'd been working on this Black In America series way before he was running for president."

"It's a conversation that we need to have," O’Brien said. “For a lot of people, race is this elephant in the room."

She noted that the director Spike Lee has been ahead of others in examining issues related to race relations, race-interactions, including inter-racial relationships, in his movies. "For 20 years, Spike Lee has been doing it," she said. "He's been brilliant on that front.”

The CNN series includes six hours of documentaries; a weekly series of reports that will air on CNN/U.S. and CNN International.  It runs over a four month period beginning tonight and it’s also online.

The series continues June 18, at 9 PM, with "Black In America: The Black Man" when O'Brien examines the question whether life is better for the Black man today than it was 40 years ago; and on June 19, at 9PM, "Black In America: The Black Woman & Family," looks at the reasons behind the disturbing statistics on single parenthood, disparities between Back and White students in the classroom, and the devastating toll of HIV/AIDS on Black women.

As part of the Black in America series, weekly special reports will air between April and June that investigate topics including parenthood and marital rates among black adults, high rates of HIV/AIDS among African Americans, achievement gaps in education, careers, and even disparities in life expectancy rates between African Americans and the general population.

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