Did John MacArthur lie when he claimed to be the lone “white guy” with Black civil rights leaders the night Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated? Did MacArthur embellish the story, claiming to have arrived at the hotel where MLK was shot “just hours” after MLK’s assassination when he actually arrived days later?
These questions have been circulating for two years, ever since reporter Paige Rogers and blogger Brent Detwiler reported significant discrepancies between MacArthur’s account and the accounts of others who allegedly were with him on that fateful night.
Recently, however, Grace to You Executive Director Phil Johnson sought to put these allegations to rest.
In a videotaped interview with Justin Peters two weeks ago, Johnson admitted that MacArthur “misremembers” some things. Yet Johnson says this pertains to “little facts” and “incidental details” that understandably might become “fuzzy” after 50 years.
Johnson also asserts that a letter from Dr. David Nicholas, President of Shasta Bible College and an eyewitness to the events MacArthur describes, “tells the same story John (MacArthur) does.”
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Yet Nicholas’ letter contradicts portions of MacArthur’s account, and reveals apparent, significant inaccuracies in MacArthur’s story.
These aren’t just details that Johnson alleges are minor, like MacArthur saying he stood on the toilet that James Earl Ray stood on when Ray shot MLK. (In actuality, Ray stood in the bathtub. From atop the toilet, Ray would not have been able to see through the window to the Lorraine Motel.)
The disputed details are substantial, like what day MacArthur learned of the assassination; where he was when he heard the news; and the major characteristics of the group he was with. (MacArthur claims he was the only white among a group of Black civil rights leaders; Nicholas says John Perkins was the only Black with “five white guys.”)
In addition, Johnson said in his interview with Peters that he sent Nicholas’ letter to “some of these people who are insistent on . . . calling John a liar,” specifically naming Detwiler. Johnson added, they “simply ignore any testimony” corroborating MacArthur’s account.
Yet Detwiler told The Roys Report that Johnson never sent him Nicholas’ letter. Rogers said Johnson never sent Nicholas’ letter to her either.
Plus, Nicholas’ letter is dated June 19, 2020—about a year after Detwiler’s article published, and 16 months after Rogers’ article published.
Nicholas’ Letter vs. MacArthur’s Account
The letter by Nicholas establishes that John MacArthur was in Mississippi on April 4, 1968—the night MLK was shot. It also establishes that around that time, MacArthur was preaching in Black churches and high schools with civil rights activist and pastor, John Perkins.
From that point, the stories diverge at several points.
MacArthur has told his story numerous times—in multiple interviews spanning at least a decade, in a 2018 blog post, and in Iain Murray’s 2011 biography, John MacArthur: Servant of the World and Flock. Some accounts have more details than others, but MacArthur’s basic assertions are consistent throughout, which are documented below:
On the night MLK was shot, MacArthur claims he was with civil rights leader, Charles Evers, in Evers’ NAACP office in Jackson, Mississippi.
At a 2007 Desiring God conference, MacArthur said: “I was down in the South, in the office of Charles Evers—the brother of Medgar Evers—when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.”
Similarly, when interviewed by former Grace Community Church Pastor Rick Holland in 2009, MacArthur recounts: “I’ll never forget one night. I was in the middle of Jackson, Mississippi, in the office of a man named Charles Evers . . . And we were sitting there, and he was trying to explain to me that night in Jackson what was going on. . . . And Charles was talking, and a man burst through the door and said, ‘Martin Luther King has been assassinated.’ That happened that night while I was with Charles and John (Perkins) and some others.”
Rick Holland’s 2009 Interview with John MacArthur (account begins at 3:15):
Evers, however, denies being with MacArthur the night MLK was shot, as Paige Rogers reported in 2019. Evers instead says he was in his car driving to Natchez, Mississippi, when his secretary called Evers to inform him of MLK’s death.
After Rogers’ published her article, Phil Johnson released a statement in which MacArthur claimed that he “was absolutely with” Evers. But MacArthur added that since he was a “young unknown,” and “with all the trauma,” Evers probably “doesn’t remember me.” (Johnson also referred to Rogers’ piece, which included audio of Brannon Howse interviewing Charles Evers, as a “hit piece poorly disguised as a serious investigative report and posted online by people who obviously have a long-standing agenda to discredit John MacArthur.”)
I’ve been tied up with stuff today and this is my first chance to reply to the little croaking chorus of usual suspects who want so badly to call John MacArthur’s integrity into question. If you haven’t seen the article in question, ignore this. In case you have, here’s my reply: pic.twitter.com/7nZ98d9nbE
— Phil Johnson (@Phil_Johnson_) February 4, 2019
Nicholas’ letter, however, confirms Rogers’ account that Evers was not with MacArthur on the night MLK was shot. Nicholas writes that on the night MLK was shot, MacArthur was with him and a group of musicians from Biola University, ministering at the Voice of Calvary Church where John Perkins was the pastor.
Nicholas adds that the group was not informed of MLK’s death until the following morning at 10 a.m., while they were in a police station in Mendenhall, Mississippi, not Evers’ office.
After leaving the police station, however, Nicholas says Perkins took the group to Evers’ office and introduced them to the civil rights leader.
MacArthur claims he was arrested and put in jail for “preaching the gospel in Black high schools.”
When recounting his time in Mississippi when MLK was shot, MacArthur claims in a GTY Bible Questions and Answer session in 2017, that he was arrested “for preaching the gospel in Black high schools.” MacArthur adds that he “was put in jail, and they took all my money away.”
Johnson tells a similar story in his recent interview with Peters. After stating that Nicholas’ letter has new details about MacArthur in it, Johnson proceeds to explain that MacArthur “happened to be driving without his wallet,” so a sheriff “threw him in the clink for the night. And John says that he did have money in his pocket and the sheriff just kept all that.”
Yet according to Nicholas’ letter, MacArthur was not arrested nor put in jail.
Instead, Nicholas writes that on the night MLK was killed, MacArthur was pulled over by the local sheriff as the group left the church where they had been ministering. Nicholas reports that the sheriff asked to see MacArthur’s license, but MacArthur “had unintentionally left his license back at our motel.” So, the sheriff “demanded that we show up at his office the following day at 10:00 a.m.”
Nicholas writes that the next day, “the entire team arrived on time” at the police station, MacArthur “produced his license,” and “we all breathed a sigh of relief as we left his office.”
I spoke with Nicholas on the phone and he confirmed that MacArthur was not arrested that night, nor did MacArthur spend any time in jail. Nicholas also said that MacArthur did not give the sheriff any money either.
Nicholas also confirmed in our phone call that the first he and MacArthur heard of MLK’s assassination was the following morning in the police station where the radio was “blaring the news.” He added that MacArthur, himself, and the rest of the group were “shocked to hear” of the assassination and saddened by the news.
MacArthur claims he was the “only white present”
MacArthur also claims he was the only white person in the group he was with when Martin Luther King was assassinated and the days following. He says this same group travelled together to Memphis to the site of MLK’s shooting.
MacArthur’s 2011 biography states that MacArthur was in Jackson with a group that included John Perkins and Charles Evers. It adds that MacArthur was “the only white present” and that MacArthur “had grown to love these people and their culture.” Then, after learning of MLK’s assassination, it states that “the group’s reaction was to drive through the night to Memphis, the scene of the murder, and John went with them.”
Similarly, in the 2014 GTY Bible Questions and Answer session, MacArthur states that he was “with all the Black leaders when Martin Luther King was assassinated,” adding, “I was the only white guy.”
And again, in MacArthur’s 2009 retelling of the event to Rick Holland, MacArthur states that after hearing of MLK’s assassination in the office with Evers and Perkins, the group feared for his safety because he was white. MacArthur states:
The immediate issue was that there were serious things going on in the street in Jackson and they were trying to get me out of there because I was as pale as a ghost. And here we were worried what might happen to me. And so they, they escorted me. And then they said, “You know . . . We’re going to go to Memphis. We want to see what happened.”
This also contradicts the account in Nicholas’ letter.
Nicholas writes that the group that was together the night MLK was shot and the day following included himself (a white man), three “musically talented men from Biola University,” MacArthur, and Perkins.
Specifically, when describing the group that drove around Jackson, Mississippi, the day after MLK was shot, Nicholas states: “There we were, five white guys being driven by a black man, something that in those days was certain to raise suspicion.”
Nicholas also told me that the group that travelled together to Memphis included only MacArthur, the Biola students, and himself. He said Perkins and Evers did not go with the group to Memphis.
When I asked Nicholas about the apparent contradiction between his account and MacArthur’s, he said, “If (MacArthur) said that, his memory failed him at that point. Evers didn’t go (to Memphis). He couldn’t possibly go.” Nicholas noted that Evers was so busy handling the unrest in Fayette, Mississippi, where he was mayor, that he wasn’t even able to go to Washington, D.C., at President Lyndon B. Johnson’s request.
MacArthur claims he arrived at the scene of MLK’s assassination “literally within hours” after MLK was assassinated and gained access to the crime scene.
MacArthur’s 2011 biography makes it sound like MacArthur heard about MLK’s shooting on the night it happened and then drove “through the night to Memphis,” arriving at the assassination crime scene the next morning.
Similarly, in his 2018 blog post, “Social Injustice and the Gospel,” MacArthur writes: “When news of Dr. King’s murder broke, we drove to Memphis—and literally within hours after Dr. King was assassinated, we were at the Lorraine Motel, standing on the balcony where he was shot. We were also shown the place where James Earl Ray stood on a toilet to fire the fatal shot.”
Additionally, in MacArthur’s 2009 interview with Holland, MacArthur states that after hearing of MLK’s assassination, the group left quickly for Memphis, arriving “just hours” after MLK was shot. They then allegedly gained access to the crime scene:
So they took me. And in those days, the police weren’t nearly as protective, forensics hadn’t developed to what they had and they didn’t necessarily protect crime scenes. So we went to the motel, up to the landing, saw the blood where Martin Luther King had been shot just hours before by James Earl Ray. I actually went to the little building opposite the motel, went up on the second floor, stood up on the toilet and looked out the window where James Earl Ray had shot him. And I was there at that very, very, very crucial time.
As already noted, MacArthur’s claim that he stood on the toilet from which Ray shot MLK can’t be true. Johnson attributes the mistake to MacArthur simply misremembering the event.
Yet according to what Rogers reported in 2019, there’s also no way MacArthur would have had access to the crime scene had he arrived just hours after the assassination. She writes that the official police report states that just “10 minutes after the shooting, there were 135 police officers in the immediate area” and “the complete area had been sealed off.”
She adds that “investigators did not finish their initial processing until after 11:00 PM, at which time guards were stationed to protect the integrity of the boarding house crime scene overnight until investigators returned to resume their investigation.” Rogers also notes that an employee who was working at the Lorraine hotel when MLK was shot told a news host in 2018 that the motel stayed under lockdown for three days following the assassination.
The boarding house where Ray stood to shoot MLK was also sealed off, according to the U.S. Congress’ Findings of the MLK Assassination. And as Rogers writes, the FBI’s report reveals a very meticulous and thorough investigation, not a lackadaisical one, allowing bystanders access to the crime scene.
After Rogers’ article published, Phil Johnson responded in a tweet that MacArthur was at the crime scene “the evening after the assassination,” about “22-23 hours after the shooting.” Johnson added that allegations that MacArthur claimed he drove to Memphis the same evening were a “twist someone else put on it.”
My understanding is that John Perkins & Co. (JM included) were there the evening after the assassination. About 22-23 hours after the shooting. Where did JM ever claim it was that same evening? That’s a twist someone else put on it.
— Phil Johnson (@Phil_Johnson_) February 7, 2019
Yet now Johnson has revised his account. In his recent interview with Peters, Johnson said, “(MacArthur) says within hours. I think it might have actually been 48 hours or 72 hours after the assassination.”
In his 2020 letter, Nicholas simply states: “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.”
When I spoke to Nicholas, he said he was almost certain the group had travelled to Memphis the night after the assassination. Despite the evidence Rogers found to the contrary, Nicholas insisted that the group gained access to the balcony of the Lorraine Motel and the bathroom from which Ray shot MLK.
Nicholas maintains that MacArthur is “one of the most honest guys I know” and that “any inconsistencies” in his story concerning events around MLK’s assassination are simply due to the lapse of time.
Yet Rogers said she is “immensely delighted” that Phil Johnson posted the letter written by David Nicholas, “which verified the accuracy of my reporting.” She added, “I only wish (the evidence) had come months sooner, before Mr. Evers passed on.” (Evers died on July 22, 2020.)
She adds, “As for the question, ‘Was John MacArthur lying?’ That’s not for me to say. Perhaps, it depends on what you count as lying.”
Detwiler, on the other hand, took aim at Phil Johnson and the claims Johnson made in his recent interview with Peters. “It should be obvious to everyone that Phil Johnson repeatedly lied during his interview with Justin Peters,” Detwiler said. “(Johnson) does so with John MacArthur’s full support & knowledge. . . . It is like so many other scandals. Silence enables and quietly condones.”
77 thoughts on “Is John MacArthur’s Story about Martin Luther King Jr.’s Assassination True?”
Anyone notice how Evers says he was driving on his way to Natchez when his secretary called to say MLK had been assassinated?
Cell phones didn’t exist in 1968.
Christians are called to think the best of each other, not to jump on brethren trying to defame. The problem with memories is that they are faulty and subject to influence. Let’s stop back biting and eating one another.
Your thoughts are answered here…
MARCH 5, 2021 AT 10:13 AM
I asked Paige Rogers your question. She responded: “They were radio phones. They were big things that sat in the floor. The first was invented in the 40’s I think? Evers had one, because he was the head of the Mississippi.”
Here’s a link to an article with more information about radio phones: https://weburbanist.com/2012/09/18/remember-millions-of-mobile-phones-in-the-1960s-you-should/
There seems to be an almost cultist devotion to MacArthur that is willing to overlook his reported arrogance and abuse simply because he has the right doctrines and can preach a good sermon. I guess to admit he is wrong might mess with their concept of being the predestined elect. Peters and others are very good at exposing false teachers in other groups but are always swift to defend their guy, who is apparently above reproach. We all have faults and there are a lot of frauds in pulpits. If they’re going to expose one, they should be willing to expose them all, even those they idolize.
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