Tuesday, February 20, 2018

YA NONFICTION: Chasing King's Killer by Jamse L. Swanson


In his meteoric, thirteen-year rise to fame, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a mass movement for Civil Rights -- with his relentless peaceful, non-violent protests, public demonstrations, and eloquent speeches. But as violent threats cast a dark shadow over Dr. King's life, Swanson hones in on James Earl Ray, a bizarre, racist, prison escapee who tragically ends King's life.

As he did in his bestselling Scholastic MG/YA books Chasing Lincoln's Killer and "THE PRESIDENT HAS BEEN SHOT!", Swanson transports readers back to one of the most shocking, sad, and terrifying events in American history.

With an introduction by Congressman John Lewis, and over 80 photographs, captions, bibliography, various source notes, and index included.


Swanson has written another compelling narrative account of a heinous crime. Just as in his two previous assassination accounts, Swanson gives the reader both the before and after of King's assassination.  He starts with the account of an attack on King that I'd never heard of before.  An attack that nearly killed him ten years before his actual assassination.  Dr. King's work in the civil rights movement truly made him a target and he knew it.  But he didn't let it stop him from continuing his efforts.  While the book is not a full length biography of Martin Luther King Jr. Swanson does provide enough information to give the reader context and understanding as to why someone might want to kill the man.  

After introducing the reader to the target of the assassination, Swanson introduces the reader to the assassin himself, James Earl Ray.  While some conspiracy theorists may continue to wonder and speculate about Ray and whether he was innocent or part of a larger plan, Swanson shares the evidence the makes it clear that Ray was indeed the killer, and most likely worked alone.  Using a plethora of sources (which are thoroughly documented at the end of the book), Swanson walks the reader through the days leading up to the assassination and the days following.  It was fascinating reading about Ray's escape and the FBI's work to find him.  What I found truly shocking though was the violence that broke out after King's murder.  I had no idea there had been so much violence, especially considering King's nonviolent stand.  The book walks the reader past the violence, past the funeral, past Ray's sentencing, followed by his ongoing efforts to prove his innocence and  his escape attempts.  

The photographs provide a particularly powerful picture of events shared in the book.  But after all is said and done, after the burial, and the sentencing, and everything else, one question remains: why did Ray kill Martin Luther King, Jr.?  We will likely never know as Ray spent the remaining years of his life denying that he'd done it at all.

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