Reading Questions for Hellhound on His Trail
12. "The bureau was well aware of the existence of bounties on King's head" (page 343). By not better protecting King in light of these threats, and for not realizing the impact his death would have on the nation, should the FBI have shared the blame for King's death?
13. Book Two of Hellhound on His Trail opens with this quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet: "For murder, though it hath no tongue, will speak with most miraculous organ." Why did the author choose to include this quote? What do you think this quote says about Ray?
14. Was it surprising to read about how easily Ray was able to slip out of Memphis after the shootings? Could he have been stopped sooner? Do you think Ray could have gotten away with his crime if he committed it today?
15. As Ray flees Canada for Europe, his desperation becomes acute and he begins to make mistakes that leave him exposed. Why was he was able to remain on the run for as long as he did? Think about his two critical errors in London as he entered Heathrow Airport to board a flight to Brussels. Considering his meticulousness at other points while in hiding, why did Ray try to walk through customs with two slightly different passports and a loaded gun in his pocket?
16. Shortly after Ray pled guilty to killing King and was sent to prison, he began to recant his involvement in the assassination and asked to be put on trial. And in the late 1990s, members of King's family—notably his son Dexter and his wife Coretta—came out publicly to urge that Ray have his day in court. Should Ray been given a trial?
17. "Throughout James Earl Ray's life, the despair was panoramic. The family suffered from exactly the sort of bleak, multigenerational poverty that King's Poor People's Campaign was designed to address." Consider this paradox that the author highlights. What led Ray to his life of crime? If King's efforts had made a difference in the life of someone like Ray, would Ray have taken another path in life?
18. What would have happened if Ray himself was murdered, much like John F. Kennedy's assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was killed by Jack Ruby? What benefits, if any, have come from Ray's remaining alive (until 1998) and speaking out? If Ray had died in the act of killing King, would the collective reaction of the country—riots, unrest—have been the same?
19. There are many labels that have been applied to James Earl Ray, among them: insane, criminal, racist, loner, oddball. How would you characterize him?
20. What do you believe would have happened to the civil rights movement had King lived? Would anything be different today?
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