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[Martin Luther King, Jr., Assassination]

James Earl Ray

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Some good news—I have a publisher for a paper back & revised edition of the ‘Waltz’ book.

James Earl Ray, 1928–1998.  Convicted assassin of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Autograph Letter Signed, J. E. Ray, one page, 8½” x 11”, on personal stationery, Petros, Tennessee, January 15, 1991.  With original envelope.

Ray, who first admitted that he assassinated King in April 1968 but almost immediately recanted, writes here of securing a publisher for a revised paperback edition of his book Tennessee Waltz: The Making of a Political Prisoner, the autobiography that laid the groundwork for Ray’s acquittal by a jury in a mock trial for British television.  He also mentions reading a serialized version of  Jill C. Wheeler’s book Martin Luther King, Jr., in the Breaking Barriers series.

Ray writes, in full:  “I have your card.  The book ‘Breaking Barriers’ has been running in serial form in a local newspaper. I haven’t got to Chap. 16 yet.  /  Enclosed are 3 labels.  /  Things are about the same here.  My brother will be down from Lake Forest for a visit next week.  Some good news—I have a publisher for a paper back & revised edition of the ‘Waltz’ book.  Will get back later.  /  Sincerely . . . . /  P.S. I’ve had this fancy stationery for 2 years but never used it.”

The “fancy stationery” to which Ray refers is the personalized letterhead on which he wrote the letter.  At the top, it bears his name, prison number, and address at Brushy Mountain Prison in Tennessee.  At the bottom, the stationery has a printed legend identifying Ray as “author of tennessee waltz” and naming the publisher.

St. Andrew’s Press published Tennessee Waltz in hardcover in 1987.  The book was part of Ray’s maneuvering to withdraw his plea of guilty to the King assassination and secure himself a trial in Tennessee.  In 1970, the Tennessee Supreme Court rejected his claim that he should have a new trial because his guilty plea was not entered knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily.  Ray v. State, 451 S.W.2d 854 (Tenn. 1970).  Later, after the jury in the mock trial acquitted him, King’s family also concluded that Ray was innocent and urged that he be given a trial.  Although Ray sought post-conviction relief in at least seven other proceedings in state and federal court, he got no relief.  He died in prison. 

Despite Ray’s expression of “good news” in this letter, we cannot find that Tennessee Waltz was ever actually published in paperback form.

This letter is in fine condition.  Ray has written and signed in blue ballpoint.  The letter has two horizontal mailing folds, neither of which affects the signature, and scattered handling marks.  The accompanying mailing envelope shows some soiling and handling but has been cleanly torn open at the top.  It has postal markings on both sides, with postmarks at Knoxville, Tennessee, on the front and Dexter, Missouri, on the back.  It is also stamped on the back with a legend that reads “the writer of this letter is a resident of a penal institution.”  Overall, the envelope is also in fine condition.



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