Final Call Editor Loses Job Over Jesse Jackson Flap

Sacramento Observer/August 25, 2003
By George E. Curry

Washington -- James G. Muhammad, the highly-respected editor of the Nation of Islam's newspaper, The Final Call, has lost his job for mishandling a story that erroneously implicated Jesse L. Jackson Sr. and Samuel "Billy" Kyles in the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Muhammad offered his resignation to Minister Louis Farrakhan last week and the minister accepted it, according to Nation of Islam officials.

The Final Call made a front-page retraction in its Aug. 26 edition, apologizing for a story in the previous week's issue alleging that the King family had implicated Jackson and Kyles, two Baptist ministers and well-known Southern Christian Leadership Conference activists, in the 1968 assassination of their leader.

The original story carried the double byline of Eric Ture Muhammad and Donna Muhammad. It read, "On April 8, 1998, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, her son Dexter King, Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy and former UN Ambassador Andrew Young met with then-U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno for two-and-a-half hours. They demanded a new federal investigation into the King assassination based on new evidence that had come to their attention. The family alleges that the Reverends Jesse L. Jackson and Samuel Billy Kyles are complicit in the assassination of Dr. King."

The Final Call retracted the comment attributed to the King family, noting that it has "no basis in fact or proof."

In another story, the paper interviewed Martin Luther King III, who said: "My family has never accused Rev. Jackson and Rev. Billy Kyles of complicity in the murder of Martin Luther King Jr."

And in yet another story, the Final Call interviewed former District of Columbia Delegate Walter E. Fauntroy, a former top King assistant who chaired a U.S. House of Representatives sub-committee investigation into the King murder. Fauntroy said, "There was no evidence that our committee uncovered, that implicated in any way the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson or Rev. Samuel Billy Kyles in the conspiracy to kill Dr. Martin Luther King Jr."

In an interview with the NNPA News Service, Jackson said: "I don't want to respond because there's nothing to respond to. I don't know why they did what they did, but I am glad Farrakhan and Leonard (Muhammad, the Nation of Islam's chief of staff), when they saw it, knew that it was wrong and they retracted it. That's good enough."

"We have to build relationships, we have to deal with people in public life and the minister was a victim of the very same thing himself in the case of Malcolm X," said Akbar Muhammad, the minister's long-time assistant and now his international representative, based in Ghana. "And for our newspaper to follow in the footsteps of those who wanted to make him the enemy of the Black community by accusing him of being involved in the assassination of Malcolm and then we turn around and allow our paper to do the same thing to one of our brothers was unacceptable."

According to Akbar Muhammad, Minister Farrakhan spoke with Jesse Jackson and members of the King family before making his decision to accept James Muhammad's resignation.

Dr. King was assassinated as he and his top aides were preparing to leave the Lorraine Motel to have dinner in the home of Rev. Kyles, pastor of Monumental Baptist Church in Memphis.

In discussing Jesse Jackson's reaction to Dr. King's death, the Final Call article rekindled questions about one of the greatest mysteries of Jesse Jackson's public career - his insistence on maintaining that he was the last person to cradle Dr. King before he died.

In the most authoritative biography of Jackson during that era, "Jesse Jackson: The Man, the Movement, the Myth," written by Chicago journalist Barbara Reynolds, most of King's top aides directly contradict Jackson's version of the events.

"The only person who cradled Dr. King was (Ralph) Abernathy," Hosea Williams, the head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's voter registration project, told the author. "The last man King spoke to was Solomon Jones. It's a helluva thing to capitalize on a man's death, especially one you professed to love."

Reynolds quotes Abernathy: "I am sure Reverend Jackson would not say to me that he cradled Dr. King. I am sure that Reverend Jackson would realize that I was the person who was on the balcony with Dr. King and did not leave his side until he was pronounced dead at St. Joseph's Hospital in Memphis. I am sure that he would not say to me that he even came near Dr. King after Doc was shot."

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