James Earl Ray Papers
This collection houses letters, news clippings, official papers, and other items documenting James Earl Ray's life between the Martin Luther King assassination in 1968 and Ray's death in 1998. They concern his attempts to prove his innocence and his life in prison. Among the letters are correspondence with James's brother Jerry Ray and a woman named Lori (with various last names); most concern Ray's attempts to prove his innocence in the assassination and his insistence that a conspiracy was responsible for the crime. Most of the news clippings were included in his correspondence and include editorials sympathetic to him and articles on his legal battles. Other documents include legal papers, Ray's death certificate, a wanted notice, and documents recording life at Brushy Mountain Prison. One of the articles in the collection discusses the life of Ray and mentions the different motives for the assassination plot, including a racial motive.
Language of Materials
The materials in this collection are in English.
Conditions Governing Access
Collections are stored offsite and must be requested in advance. See www.special.lib.utk.edu for detailed information. Collections must be requested through a registered Special Collections research account.
Conditions Governing Use
The UT Libraries claims only physical ownership of most material in the collections. Persons wishing to broadcast or publish this material must assume all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any claimants on www.special.lib.utk.edu for detailed information. Collections must be requested through a registered Special Collections research account.
0.5 Linear Feet (1 half box)
This collection houses letters, newspaper clippings, official papers, and other items documenting James Earl Ray's life between the Martin Luther King assassination in 1968 and Ray's death in 1998. They concern his attempts to prove his innocence and his life in prison.
James Earl Ray was born on March 10, 1928 in Alton, Illinois. In 1935, his family fled to Ewing, Missouri as Ray's father had forged a bad check. He left school at the age of 12 and enlisted in the army in 1945. He was stationed in Germany, but he was eventually discharged in 1948 due to ineptness and lack of adaptability. A year later, Ray was arrested for robbing a restaurant and was sentenced to 90 days. He faced prison time once again after an armed robbery at a grocery store in St. Louis in 1959. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison for this and other criminal acts. In 1967, he escaped Missouri State Penitentiary where he eventually fled to Canada. After leaving Canada, he fled to Alabama where he purchased a car and a new drivers license. With both of these, he went to Mexico. When this venture did not go as planned, he decided to go to Los Angeles. While in Los Angeles, Ray assisted in the George Wallace campaign in which he took great interest in due to his racially charged ideology as a white supremacist. These ideas of white supremacy can be seen in again in his life when he expressed his desire to go to Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). During this time, Rhodesia was being run by a white minority group.
In March of 1968, Ray underwent facial reconstruction surgery while still in Los Angeles. In the same month, he drove to Atlanta, Georgia where he stayed in a rooming house. A map that was later found by the FBI in the room had Martin Luther King's house and church both circled. He drove to Birmingham, Alabama on March 30, 1968 to purchase a rifle that he told the clerk was being used on a hunting trip. Ray drove to Memphis on April 2, 1968 after finding out about King's return to the city. Ray assassinated King at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. He was seen fleeing the scene by witnesses and left a package containing a rifle and binoculars that possessed his fingerprints. He fled back to Atlanta and then to Canada where he got a passport under a new alias. He flew from Toronto to London, and he eventually ended up in Lisbon, Portugal. He returned to London, and he was eventually arrested on June 8, 1968 at Heathrow Airport. He was extradited back to Tennessee where he confessed to the crime. A few days later, he took back his confession. He later claimed that he was apart of a greater conspiracy and that he was not the one to kill King. He was convicted and served with a 99 year sentence in prison. On June 10, 1977, him and a few other inmates escaped Brushy Mountain Penitentiary, but they were found three days later. A year later in 1978, he married Anna Sandhu, the courtroom artist at his trial. The couple divorced in 1992. He continued to maintain his innocence in the assassination of Martin Luther King, and he spoke with King's son in 1997 who believed Ray's plea of innocence. With approval from the King family, the US Attorney General began an investigation into these claims in August of 1998. In June of 2000, the United States Department of Justice published a 150 page report dismissing the conspiracy claims. Ray died on April 23, 1998 from liver failure and kidney disease that were both caused by hepatitis c.
This collection consists of a single half box.