In his letters from prison James Earl Ray never once wrote a critical word about Martin Luther King (whom he usually referred to simply as "MLK"). He knew that he had no hope of a reversal of fortune if anything disparaging of King or of any other African-American leader escaped from his pen or his lips. He succeeded beyond his expectations in his campaign to persuade civil-rights leaders to embrace his cause. He intuitively understood that he and they had one big thing in common: a visceral distrust of the FBI (which had conducted a systematic campaign of surveillance against King) and an unwillingness to believe its version of anything.
Ray's support in the civil-rights community is astonishing. The Reverend Jesse Jackson wrote an introduction to one of Ray's two autobiographies, Who Killed Martin Luther King? (1992). Dick Gregory co-wrote an investigative book, Zorro (1977), which defended Ray and argued that King had been killed by the FBI. The Reverend Hosea Williams, one of King's closest associates, held a series of news conferences, insisting that Ray had been framed. The usually circumspect Andrew Young, after looking into the case, called it a travesty of justice. The great Gandhian teacher of King, the Reverend James Lawson (the hero of David Halberstam's 1998 book, The Children, a group biography of the leading activists of the Nashville lunch-counter sit-in movement), officiated at Ray's marriage in prison (to a courtroom artist named Anna Sandhu, who later divorced him). In March of 1997 King's son Dexter visited Ray in prison. "I want to ask for the record: Did you kill my father?" the young King asked. "No, I didn't, no, no," Ray replied. To which Dexter responded, "I believe you, and my family believes you, and we will do everything in our power to see you prevail."
There is a letter in the Ray papers from Coretta Scott King to Jerry Ray, on the occasion of James Earl's death, in which she expressed how "deeply saddened" she was by the news. "This tragedy is made even more painful by the fact that your brother was denied his day in court and an opportunity to prove his innocence," she wrote. "We want to assure you, however, that the King family will do everything in our power to press for a full investigation of all new and unexamined evidence which could verify his innocence."
Paranoia suffuses Ray's letters. Ray tried to outfox the authorities by using code names and pseudonyms—"John the Baptist," "Holyman"—to camouflage identities. He addressed many of his letters to his brother under the alias Jerry W. Ryan. He warned Jerry to beware of undercover cops, who might disguise themselves as Radio Shack repairmen. "The FBI probably has a cover on your mail," he wrote. In another letter, from 1992, he brought up the subject of wiretapping. "Pepper" is William Pepper, Ray's last lawyer; "Jack" is Ray's other brother, always in trouble if not in jail.
Speaking of tapped phones, yours is most likely tapped due to Jack's fugitive status and others things. So what ever you have said to Pepper on the phone, or anyone else that you have phoned or who have phoned you the FBI knows what has been said. I assume you tell Pepper and other callers that your phone is tapped. There is also the possibility that persons who call you phone is tapped. Anyway I would call from a pay phone and even then not say too much. I suspect Pepper is being bugged to find out what he is up too in the law suits & documentary.
Ray's suspiciousness extended to women. He gave Jerry some advice: "You can't trust everyone to far, especially the women type, never let the left hand know what the right is doing." Ray's sense of being beleaguered influenced his views on national politics. He sided with Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew during their legal and political woes. "Don't criticize Dick & Spiro," he told Jerry. "The public now know that not only the press lies ... but the FBI." He felt that reporters were sometimes out to get him, just as they were out to get Nixon. Once, after an interview in which a photographer took pictures as Ray spoke, Ray expressed regret that he had allowed the photographer to do so.
Anyone should not do this since they sometimes try to get a nut-picture if they are figuring on writing some nonsence. They used to get Nixon's picture with his eyes closed and his mouth gaped open. Anyway from now on I'll let them take the pics. then, the interview.
Ray's correspondence lacks artistry, to put it mildly. This is not Jean Genet's The Thief's Journal or even Jack Henry Abbott's In the Belly of the Beast. Yet Ray at times displayed a feral cunning, and his slang-laden prose offers some of the demented punch of a 1930s crime drama. Money is always "loot," security guards are "pillheads," lawyers are "winos," reporters are "lizard-heads," critics are "stool-pigeons," and prisons are "lock-ups." Sending Jerry, who was living in Georgia, a Christmas letter in 1971, Ray urged his brother to "go light on the moonshine." The details of prison life provide a rich backdrop. On one occasion Ray needed a mirror, no doubt to help him see up and down the corridor from inside his cell. He gave Jerry instructions.
The next time you are at k-mart pick up a dome-mirrow and send it to Anna. They are sometimes used on outside rear view mirrow and come in different sizes. Get one for her about tthe size of a half dollar, or the smallest they have. If you can't find one small don't get any.
Another time he explained to Jerry how to sneak in some basic necessities: "Get a large box of all-bran and open the top and put in the watch you have plus the typewritter ribbon & two batteries for the pen-watch ... If you sent the watch in a small package it would be easy to steal in the mail room plus I like the all-bran."