COVINGTON, Ga. - If not for Memphis, Martin Luther King Jr. was bound for our area.
The civil rights leader’s assassination 50 years ago this week cut short the work of a man who brought monumental change to the U.S. and the world. And had it not been for the bullet that ended his life at age 39, that work would have included an effort to solve a lynching that remains a mystery in 2018.
Daniel Young, who owned funeral homes in Monroe and Covington, had asked King two weeks earlier to come to the area to shed light on the 1946 lynching of four people at the Moore’s Ford bridge over the Apalachee River. That’s at the line of Oconee and Walton counties.
“Mr. Dan Young had convinced Dr. King to come to Monroe to help him with the Moore’s Ford lynching,” Tyrone Brooks recalled this week.
Brooks, a former state legislator from Atlanta, is a longtime civil rights worker. He knew King, Ralph David Abernathy, Hosea Williams and other legends of the movement.
Brooks said King knew well the story of the deaths of George and Mae Murray Dorsey and Roger and Dorothy Malcom. King was a teenage student at Morehouse College in Atlanta at the time of the 1946 killings and Brooks said King even wrote letters to President Harry Truman and other officials about the crimes, and to the Atlanta newspapers.
By 1968, King had won the Nobel Peace Prize for his civil rights work but he saw his struggle as far from completed. He was building toward the Poor People’s Campaign and was helping striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, in the spring of 1968.
During that time, he made a stop in Macon. That’s when Brooks saw Young make his plea to King, a man he already knew well. King, in Brooks’ recollection, didn’t hesitate.
“Dr. King made a public announcement in Macon, and the Macon Telegraph and Channel 13 covered him (saying), ‘Ralph and I are coming to help you, Dan, when we get finished in Memphis.’ We found articles in the archives of the Macon Telegraph.”
The plan was for King to fly to Monroe from Memphis after King had dinner with the Rev. Samuel Billy Kyles. But the dinner was delayed and King was shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.
“The plane never came,” said Brooks, who was to meet King in Monroe. “I got hungry and I drove down to Social Circle … to Ralph and Myrtle Ivey’s home. I get the food out, I start eating and I turn the television on and there is Walter Cronkite making an announcement that Dr. King has been shot in Memphis.”
After a commercial break, Brooks flipped over to NBC where he recalled Chet Huntley made the same announcement. Brooks said he went back over to CBS where Cronkite gave the somber news of King’s passing.
“David, I felt like I died,” Brooks told me. “Something felt like it left my body and I started crying profusely.”
Brooks said Abernathy ordered Southern Christian Leadership Conference staff to Memphis, a drive he made in record time.
Years later, someone told him they would have met an eastbound James Earl Ray. Ray pleaded guilty to the murder of King but later recanted his confession. (Brooks said neither he nor the King family believe Ray killed King.)
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Brooks said a law enforcement source told him Ray left Memphis for Atlanta, then traveled through Social Circle, Monroe and the Gratis community to Winder, where he stayed for several hours, then went back to Atlanta and abandoned his car at the old Capitol Homes housing project.
An event to commemorate King and the anniversary of his death is set for 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Young-Levett Funeral Home, 129 W. Washington St., Monroe. Brooks said he also expects to discuss the case that’s taken up so much of his life’s work.
“We’re going to say we’ve solved the Moore’s Ford lynching,” he said. “Now that all the files are available to the public, people can draw their own conclusions. One conclusion we have reached is that the decision not to prosecute anyone was made prior to the lynching massacre.”
One can’t help wondering if King’s involvement might have led to justice in this life in the deaths of the Dorseys and Malcoms.David Clemons is the editor and publisher of The Covington News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @scoopclemons.