Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin

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Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin

Author: Hampton Sides
Publisher: Doubleday
Copyright: 2010
Pages: 459
Cover Price: $ 28.95

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On April 23, 1967, Prisoner #416J, an inmate at the notorious Missouri State Penitentiary, escaped in a breadbox. Fashioning himself Eric Galt, this nondescript thief and con man—whose real name was James Earl Ray—drifted through the South, into Mexico, and then Los Angeles, where he was galvanized by George Wallace’s racist presidential campaign.

On February 1, 1968, two Memphis garbage men were crushed to death in their hydraulic truck, provoking the exclusively African American workforce to go on strike. Hoping to resuscitate his faltering crusade, King joined the sanitation workers’ cause, but their march down Beale Street, the historic avenue of the blues, turned violent. Humiliated, King fatefully vowed to return to Memphis in April.

With relentless storytelling drive, Sides follows Galt and King as they crisscross the country, one stalking the other, until the crushing moment at the Lorraine Motel when the drifter catches up with his prey. Against the backdrop of the resulting nationwide riots and the pathos of King’s funeral, Sides gives us a riveting cross-cut narrative of the assassin’s flight and the sixty-five-day search that led investigators to Canada, Portugal, and England—a massive manhunt ironically led by Hoover’s FBI.

Magnificent in scope, drawing on a wealth of previously unpublished material, this nonfiction thriller illuminates one of the darkest hours in American life—an example of how history is so often a matter of the petty bringing down the great.

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Background Information

George Wallace built a lasting career as a segregationist politician in Alabama by defying federal orders to desegregate the University of Alabama. Martin Luther King Jr came to national prominence through the Montgomery Bus Boycott and remained the most influential Civil Rights leader until his assassination. Memphis is a town on the Mississippi River at the western end of Tennessee, known both for music and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. J. Edgar Hoover was the first director of the FBI and remained in the post for the rest of his life, acquiring enormous and possibly corrupt power. The Federal Bureau of Investigation became famous during its campaigns against organized crime during Prohibition and the Great Depression.