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King Assassination Still Puzzling

Thirty years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the vast majority of Americans believes there was a conspiracy to kill the civil rights leader.

A CBS News poll, conducted for a special edition of 48 Hours and released Tuesday, shows only 1 in 10 Americans thinks James Earl Ray, who was convicted of killing Dr. King, was solely responsible. Seventy percent of those questioned think others were also involved, while 20 percent aren't sure.


Belief in a conspiracy theory has been strong for decades. In a CBS News poll conducted in 1975, four in five of those who expressed an opinion thought Ray did not act alone.

Although a majority of both blacks and whites believe in a conspiracy, more blacks believe Ray had accomplices. Not a single black respondent said James Earl Ray acted alone. In comparison, only 66 percent of whites believe there was a conspiracy. A significant number of whites, one in five, do not feel they know enough to have any opinion.

Questioned March 1-2 about whether King's hope for a color blind society still lives, respondents were divided on the basis of race. Whites think there will be better race relations in the next century. However, blacks disagree.

Only 30 percent of blacks think race relations will be better in the new millennium. Sixty-one percent of whites believe there will be full racial equality in the 21st century.

This poll was conducted among a nation-wide random sample of 782 adults, interviewed by telephone March 1-2,1998. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus four percentage points for results based on the entire sample.

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