Update on the John MacArthur Went to Memphis the Night of Martin Luther King, Jr’s Murder Story

Recently, Grace to You Executive Director Phil Johnson publicly questioned John MacArthur’s account of his whereabouts and activities on the night Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered. In the past, Johnson has sharply criticized others, including me, for doing this. Since at least 2007, John MacArthur has claimed that he traveled to Memphis, TN with Charles Evers and John Perkins on the night Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. He said he stood where James Earl Ray shot the fatal bullet.

Civil rights icon Charles Evers denied that he went to Memphis with MacArthur. John Perkins has refused to comment on the record but empowered his daughter Deborah Perkins to speak for his foundation on the matter. She told me that Charles Evers denial is accurate.

In a recent interview with Justin Peters, Johnson was asked about MacArthur’s story. I have a transcript of what he said beginning at 51:40 and will comment below.

I think it’s possible that John has compressed the timeline of those events in his mind but he absolutely did go with John Perkins and his team to Memphis and stand on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel. He says within hours, I think it might have actually been within 48 hours or 72 hours after the assassination, it was right afterwards, and John describes how the blood stains were still on the balcony and that’s a matter of historical fact.

In fact, I read one story that I’m eager to find the facts on this one. But that in order to preserve some of the stuff people in the area had actually cut that piece of concrete with the blood stain out and moved it, removed it, and it’s been replaced where it originally was at the Lorraine Hotel and covered up with plexiglas so you can see the blood stain, apparently even until today.

There’s an article online titled something like, ‘the blood stain that won’t go away’ or something like that so can read about the facts of that.

But anyway, he, John describes how he was in the room where, uh, James Earl Ray shot the fatal bullet. Here’s how I know John’s memory on it isn’t exactly precise in every detail. ‘Cause he said he stood on the toilet where – he he he was in the room where the toilet was that James Earl Ray stood on when he shot MLK. The fact is he [Ray] was standing in the bathtub, There is a toilet right next to I, but he was, he was standing in the bathtub.

Little facts like that, that I think John misremembers, but the fact is, he was there, and there are other eyewitnesses who will verify that.

One of them is the president of Shasta, I think it’s called Shasta Bible College. Okay so, let me read this. The president of Shasta Bible College, his name is David Nicholas. He was part of that team that John was with when he was when all of that happened, and he has written a fairly thorough account of that summer with John Perkins. I say fairly thorough, it’s a letter. He wrote a lengthy letter to his constituents and described some of the same events that John described. And when I saw this letter. I took it to John and I said, “Do you remember this guy?” and John goes, “Oh yeah, I remember, we went to college together.” Uh so, And he mentions that he was there. John was there. They went to the assassination site and all that. So he tells the same story John does.

This is confirming eyewitness testimony which I have sent to some of these people who are insistent on you know calling John a liar and all that.

There is this Detwiler guy who puts stuff out all the time. And uh you know, they simply ignore any testimony that would corroborate John MacArthur’s account, and cite the testimony of people who say they don’t remember John being there, as if that’s somehow proof that John MacArthur’s lying about this.

It’s not a lie. He may have some incidental details wrong, but I think we all have fuzzy – uh the details of our memories from 50 years ago are, tend to be a little bit fuzzy. That’s more than 50 years ago, isn’t it. That’s 53 years ago…So if you wanted to pick apart John’s story say it couldn’t have been hours later, well, it depends on what you count as hours. If it was 72 hours later, it actually, it’s credible. And in fact there are photographs of the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, within days after the assassination, loaded with people looking and seeing and wanting to visit…

The other eyewitness Johnson mentioned here is David Nicholas, who was then the Director of Admissions at Los Angeles Baptist College. Nicholas, who is now president of Shasta Bible College, said he accompanied MacArthur on some of his preaching trips to MS and claimed in a June 2020 letter to Shasta constituents that he was along with Perkins and MacArthur on this trip to Memphis.

Despite what Johnson says here, Nicholas’ account is at odds with MacArthur’s. MacArthur makes it sound as if the group went to Memphis the night King, Jr. was murdered, whereas Nicholas (see the full letter here), said they went “later” (no closer to the murder than the next day after the 10am meeting with the sheriff). The whole account of how they heard of the murder is different than MacArthur’s. The account of the arrest is also different. Here is the relevant information from the letter:

One night after our team ministered at Voice of Calvary Church, we walked in the darkness to our car (there were no street lights in the black quarter of Mendenhall) and started to leave. Almost immediately, bright red lights came on behind us. It was the local Sheriff. He pulled us over and asked for John MacArthur’s driver license. This was a problem because John had unintentionally left his license back at our motel. The Sheriff then demanded that we show up at his office the following day at 10:00 a.m. Our entire team arrived on time and as we walked in, the officeradio was blaring out the news that Rev. Martin Luther King had been assassinated in Memphis. We were shocked by this news but astounded by the jubilant reaction of the law enforcement officers in the Sheriff’s office. Why? Because when we failed to join their jubilation, the Sheriff was not happy. He informed us that he knew why we were there in Mendenhall (assuming we were civil rights workers helping John Perkins). I’ll never forget the name tag on his uniform. It said, “Sheriff Willis.” He continued by telling us, “I’ve been Sheriff of this town for 25 years and my daddy before me and my granddaddy before him. You step out of line one time and we’ll take care of you and do it all legal-like.” He then threatened to beat us, mentioning the use of a belt, which was probably an idle threat since there were five of us; and after John MacArthur produced his license, we breathed a sigh of relief as we left his office. All we wanted to do was to assist John Perkins in reaching the black community for Christ, and being from CA where attitudes were far different, we were shocked by the Sheriff’s reaction both toward the assassination of MLK and us!

Following our encounter with the Sheriff, John Perkins suggested we visit his friend, Charles Evers, Mayor of Fayette, MS, brother of American civil rights activist, Medgar Evers, who was assassinated July 2, 1963 in Jackson, MS. He drove all five of us through the barricades erected to control the crowds of black folk protesting the death of Dr. King. There we were, five white guys being driven by a black man, something that in those days was certain to raise suspicion. As we drove through they yelled out, “Are you guys “soul?” We quickly answered, “Yeah, we’re “soul.” When we finally made it to Mayor Evers’ office, John Perkins introduced us and as we sat before him sharing why we were there, a red phone rang on his desk. It was President Lyndon Baines Johnson, begging Mayor Evers to come to Wash., D.C. and help quell the protests there. Mayor Evers replied, “I’m sorry Mr. President, I can’t come. I have my hands full here.” Later we traveled to Memphis and stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was shot and looked out the window of the bathroom of the rooming house where James Earl Ray aimed his .30-06 at Rev. King. But as a result of that meeting with Mayor Evers, our team, including John MacArthur, myself, and three other musically talented men from BIOLA University, were asked to speak and minister in music at public school assemblies all around Jackson, Fayette and Mendenhall.

These details are the kind that can easily become altered by time. My issue here is not that small details may have been rearranged by time. I write to update my previous posts on the subject with these acknowledgements by Johnson and the new information from Nicholas.

I also note that Johnson is free to question MacArthur, but the motives of others are insulted when they do. Unknown to me, Johnson told blogger Brent Detwiler that I made “evil insinuations” in my article on this topic when I reported what John Perkin’s daughter Deborah said she was authorized by John Perkins to say about the subject. Johnson also told Detwiler that I made no effort to get John Perkins to answer the question: “Is it true that you went with John MacArthur to the Lorraine Motel in the wake of the MLK assassination?” That statement was false when he made it, and it remains so.

John Perkins’ Puzzling Silence

One of the aspects of this story that remains puzzling to me is why John Perkins has refused to comment directly. If his experience corroborates MacArthur and Nicholas, then what does he gain by remaining silent? When I asked Deborah Perkins about this, she said John MacArthur was a friend of Dr. Perkins and that was all they wanted to say. However, this line of responding implies that Dr. Perkins’ candid response would not be favorable to their friendship. If Perkins’ reply would support MacArthur’s account, why wouldn’t a friend say so?

 

 

The entire interview with Phil Johnson:

Let Justice Roll Down: Thoughts from John M. Perkins

Today a copy of John Perkins’ 1976 autobiography, Let Justice Roll Down, arrived in my mail box as a gift from a friend. I looked for this book as a part of my research into John MacArthur’s claim that he and Perkins traveled to Memphis on the night Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. I reported the results of my research and my interview with John Perkins’ daughter in a prior post.

In this book, Perkins mentions the support he received from John MacArthur’s father but doesn’t mention anything about going with John MacArthur to Memphis on the night of MLK’s death. I think that would be a story I would include if it had happened to me.

Social Justice

What is striking about this book is Perkins’ commitment to social justice. I say it is striking because Perkins has declined to speak on the record about the MacArthur story, choosing instead to allow his daughter to speak for him. Deborah Perkins has supported the story of Charles Evers who said he didn’t go to Memphis with MacArthur and Perkins that night.

Why is it striking to me? John MacArthur has gone on record as criticizing the social justice movement in the evangelical church. He promotes a critical statement on social justice which seems to cast doubt on much of what John Perkins has worked for.

As I read Perkins book, I came across these words:

The contribution of the civil rights movement to the black man’s struggle for justice and equality is one that is undeniably great. And this is so, because those who led the movement were committed men and women. They were committed to the cause. And to the struggle.

But how sad that so few individuals equally committed to Jesus Christ ever became part of that movement. For what all that political activity needed — and lacked — was spiritual input.  Even now, I do not understand why so many evangelicals find a sense of commitment to civil rights and to Jesus Christ an “either-or” proposition. (p. 99).

Perhaps, Rev. Perkins should ask his friend John MacArthur why so many evangelicals can’t walk the gospel and chew social justice gum at the same time. Or maybe John Perkins could help MacArthur understand his point of view.

Later in the book, Perkins wrote about the ostracism his children experienced in the all white schools of Mendenhall, MS. No Christian leaders, parents, or students spoke up to support them. He wrote:

I had to just watch. It hurt. The question kept popping up inside me: Does the gospel  — that is, the gospel as we presently preach it — have within itself the power to deal with racial attitudes? The thing that hit me was that the supposed presence of the gospel was simply not effective in terms of human relations. If evangelism is truly on the side of God and His love, then it should never allow itself to look like it’s on the side of a bigot-producing system. (p. 108).

I know which side I want to be on. To be fair, I believe most people want to be on the right side. However, I invite anti-social justice warriors to ask themselves why Perkins’ question is just as relevant in 2019 as it was in 1976.

John MacArthur’s Story About MLK Jr.’s Assassination and Evil Insinuations

For many years, John MacArthur has told a story about the night Martin Luther King, Jr. died. Although the details vary slightly with the telling, the summary is that he, John Perkins and some other civil rights leaders traveled from Jackson, MS to Memphis, TN the night MLK was murdered. They went to the Lorraine Motel and stood where King was killed. They also went to the nearby boarding house where James Earl Ray carried out the shooting.

A February 2019 investigative report filed in the online NOQ Reports questioned MacArthur’s story via the testimony of civil rights leader Charles Evers. MacArthur named Evers as one of the civil rights leaders present in Jackson that night and implied that Evers went with the group to Memphis. Evers denied knowing MacArthur and denied going to Memphis with him or anyone the night King was murdered. In fact, news accounts of the day make it improbable that Evers could have made that trip.

One crucial eyewitness who has remained silent is civil rights icon John Perkins. Perkins was with MacArthur in Mississippi that night and MacArthur has indicated that they were together for the trip. Perkins did not speak on the record for the NOQ Reports article and declined to speak directly to me. However, he did authorize his daughter Deborah Perkins to speak for his Foundation about the issue. Deborah Perkins told me in a March phone interview that Charles Evers’ denial of MacArthur’s story was correct. I also interviewed Evers who told me that he didn’t go to Memphis that night. My summary of those two interviews was as follows:

In summary, when John Perkins’ representative had the chance to confirm John MacArthur’s story, she declined to comment; then she spontaneously affirmed the accuracy of the person who said it wasn’t true. This is what I can offer at this time. What it means is surely in the eye of the beholder.

Now comes Brent Detwiler who has taken just about everything written on this subject and compiled it into a lengthy article which he says is the most important one he’s ever written. If interested in this subject, it is worth reviewing since it brings together what has been written and adds some new correspondence.

Did I Make Effort to Talk to Perkins?

My point with this post is to comment on one small aspect of that correspondence from Phil Johnson, Executive Director of Grace to You, the ministry of John MacArthur. Johnson appears to act as MacArthur’s public voice. At least on this matter, Johnson has been doing that. In an email attributed to Johnson, Johnson says the following to Detwiler:

My original challenge to Mr. Throckmorton stands for you: If you seriously want to investigate John MacArthur’s account, you need to ask John Perkins one simple question—namely, “Is it true that you went with John MacArthur to the Lorraine Motel in the wake of the MLK assassination?”  Throckmorton made no attempt to get an answer to that question, but published a piece full of evil insinuations anyway—to his own embarrassment.

Here is the background for this paragraph. In prior correspondence, Johnson suggested that I contact Perkins with the question: “Is it true that you went with John MacArthur to the Lorraine Motel in the wake of the MLK assassination?” I told him at that time that I had already contacted John Perkins through Perkins’ website. I wanted to ask Perkins this exact question. Knowing that MacArthur and Perkins were friends, I asked Johnson if he had more direct contact information. I did not get a reply to this question.

And so Johnson’s assertion to Detwiler is not true. I asked Perkins via his Foundation if he had accompanied John MacArthur to Memphis in the wake of MLK’s assassination. Perkins himself did not reply, but a representative from his foundation did and said that someone from the foundation would reply after they talked to Dr. Perkins following his return from a business trip. In addition, they wanted me to submit examples of articles that I had published in the past. I then heard from a representative that Perkins Foundation co-president Deborah Perkins would talk to me after her father returned. The results of that interview are reported here.

In fact, I made significant efforts to get an answer to that question and Johnson knows it because we discussed it via email. Despite the fact that Deborah Perkins is John Perkins’ daughter, the co-president of the Foundation, and spoke as a representative of the Perkins Foundation, Johnson called Deborah Perkins’ answer “hearsay.”

Furthermore, my article contained very little in the way of insinuation, evil or otherwise. I wrote:

I asked for response or comment from Johnson and Rev. MacArthur (through Johnson) but they didn’t response by the time I published this. I will be happy to add any response they offer.

Without a lengthier interview with Dr. Perkins, I still don’t know in detail what happened that night or if there was ever a trip to Memphis (within a week, a month?). Perhaps everybody involved has a fuzzy memory for the events of the time.

In summary, when John Perkins’ representative had the chance to confirm John MacArthur’s story, she declined to comment; then she spontaneously affirmed the accuracy of the person who said it wasn’t true. This is what I can offer at this time. What it means is surely in the eye of the beholder.

It is perplexing to me how Mr. Johnson can get an “evil insinuation” out of this. It is also simply wrong — and I believe Mr. Johnson should correct his statement now that it is public — that I made no effort to contact Perkins. I did, and I still hope to hear Dr. Perkins personal statement about what he did the night Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. I believe his daughter spoke officially and with the authority given to her by her father, but there are those who will only heed something from Dr. Perkins himself.

John Perkins’ Daughter: Charles Evers’ Statement is Accurate

Did John MacArthur visit the Lorraine Motel in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Several times since at least 2007, MacArthur has claimed that he was with civil rights icons John Perkins and Charles Evers as they traveled to Memphis in the hours after MLK’s murder. MacArthur added that he stood on the balcony where King was shot and visited the house where James Earl Ray fired the shots, all within hours of the assassination. A February 4 NOQ Reports article skeptically addressed this matter using an interview with civil rights icon Charles Evers as contradicting evidence. In the report, Evers denied he went to Memphis that night.

The NOQ Reports article quickly came under fire. Critics claimed it was biased and omitted some critical information. Due to the controversy and as a matter of historical interest, I became curious about the story and asked Phil Johnson, Executive Director of Grace to You (MacArthur’s teaching ministry), for additional clarification of several of the issues. He suggested I interview John Perkins.

Although it took several weeks for us to connect, I was able today to speak to Deborah Perkins, one of John Perkins’ daughters, who said she was empowered to speak for her father on this matter. I asked if John Perkins had gone to Memphis within hours of MLK’s murder. She said, “That’s not a comment we can offer a comment on.” She added spontaneously, “Charles Evers has already commented on that. He already said that wasn’t right.” I asked, “So, do you think Charles Evers’ statement is accurate?” Ms. Perkins said, “Yes, Charles Evers’ statement is accurate if he made it.”

Ms. Perkins said that John MacArthur was a friend of Dr. Perkins and that was all they wanted to say, but added that Charles Evers was accurate in what he said about the situation.

To make sure that I understood Charles Evers’ position and that he did indeed make the statement attributed to him in the February report, I called and talked to him. He repeated his claim that he did not remember John MacArthur, and he did not remember going to Memphis that night. He added that he might have gone to Memphis sometime after the murder but he didn’t remember for sure, and he didn’t remember going with MacArthur.

I asked for response or comment from Johnson and Rev. MacArthur (through Johnson), but they didn’t response by the time I published this. I will be happy to add any response they offer.

Without a lengthier interview with Dr. Perkins, I still don’t know in detail what happened that night or if there was ever a trip to Memphis (within a week, a month?). Perhaps everybody involved has a fuzzy memory for the events of the time.

In summary, when John Perkins’ representative had the chance to confirm John MacArthur’s story, she declined to comment; then she spontaneously affirmed the accuracy of the person who said MacArthur’s story wasn’t true. This is what I can offer at this time. What it means is surely in the eye of the beholder.

Did John MacArthur Visit the Lorraine Motel in the Wake of the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.?

On several occasions, Rev. MacArthur has claimed he visited the crime scene where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot dead on April 4, 1968. This issue has taken on new urgency with the publication of an investigative report in NOQ Reports written by Paige Rogers.

Over several decades, MacArthur has described hearing about the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr while being in Jackson, MS. In essence, he has said he was in the Jackson NAACP office of Charles Evers, brother of civil rights martyr Medgar Evers when a man entered the office and said King had been shot. At that point, several of the men including John Perkins and MacArthur traveled to Memphis to see the crime scene. MacArthur claims the scene wasn’t monitored and the men were able to inspect the King’s blood stains at the Lorraine Motel and examine the bathroom from where James Earl Ray fired the fatal shots.

In Rogers article, Charles Evers is quoted saying he was in his car when he received word of the shooting. In the first edition of a book where he gives an account of the event, he says he heard of the shooting on the radio. In subsequent accounts, he said he got a call on his car phone. In any case, he was not in his office in Jackson.

However, I have found evidence that supports MacArthur’s contention that he was with Perkins. In John Perkins’ 1993 book, Beyond Charity, Perkins wrote the following:

While this passage doesn’t place MacArthur and Perkins in Evers’ office (and a later account from Perkins doesn’t mention Evers), it does place them together. This information was not in Rogers’ article.

A more important issue to me is whether or not Perkins and MacArthur went to Memphis that night (or at any time) and examined the crime scene. MacArthur has repeatedly said he did in the wake of the shooting even saying the security was lax which allowed them to go to the place where King was killed.

This seems unlikely since a curfew had been imposed and reportedly security was tight at the Lorraine Motel according to available police records. The Rogers’ article did an admirable job of bringing this information together.

I have emailed and messaged John Perkins via social media to ask him about his recollections of this night. He has yet to answer. In 2018, he told an interviewer that he was informed via the radio and community members after preaching. There was no mention of MacArthur, Evers or the NAACP office. I have been unable to find any mention in any of his books of a trip to the Lorraine Motel that night.

According to John Perkins, John MacArthur was in MS with him when MLK, Jr. was killed. I also believe that Evers was in his car when he heard about the death of King. I can understand how memory can reconstruct certain elements of an event. However, the trip to Memphis is another matter.

I would really like to hear from John Perkins about what happened after he heard the news. The logistics of that night and distance between Jackson and Memphis make it seem improbable that MacArthur’s detailed accounts are accurate as described. I can’t judge the situation beyond that and am certainly not willing to say anything more with certainty without hearing from Perkins.

(Information above without links is derived from Rogers’ article. Consult that article for more on the police reports surrounding the aftermath of the King shooting.)