Claim: A plaque made for a 2002 Martin Luther King Day celebration mistakenly thanked James Earl Ray, King's assassin, instead of actor James Earl Jones.
Origins: Most of the public mistakes we make in life can be dismissed with wry chuckles, and our faux pas generally cause nothing more than brief moments of red-faced embarrassment, but every once in a while someone commits a gaffe so unseemly that it sends everyone involved scurrying for rocks to crawl under. The
For their annual Martin Luther King Day celebration in 2002, the people of Lauderhill, Florida, invited deep-voiced actor
Four days before the celebration, Lauderhill officials received their plaque and were horrified to discover that it bore an inscription thanking James Earl Ray for "keeping the dream
If all this seemed an unnecessary brouhaha over a small mix-up of names, consider the plaque again, this time from the perspective of who James Earl Ray was. The plaque showcased commemorative stamps issued in honor of four prominent African-American figures. And in its middle it thanked the murderer of one of them for "keeping the dream alive" (as in, getting rid of one and suggesting by implication that others should be similarly dispatched).
AdPro hastily checked to ensure that the blunder hadn't been the result of a mistake on their part:
"In all my communications with the vendor, I never used [the name James Earl Ray]. I almost fell off my chair when I saw it," said Norbert Williams, 68, a former middle school principal who is an AdPro account executive. The evidence pointed to Georgetown, Texas.
Even with his doubts, Wilcox said he was willing to call it an error but wanted Merit executives to tell him what happened. He said the first phone conversation broke down when a Merit employee became uncooperative and cut the call short. On a second try, Gerald Wilcox talked to the owner, Herbert Miller.
"I explained to him why this was so important. He said I was making a mountain out of a mole hill," Wilcox said. "They had no sense of history. First I was stunned, then the anger kicked in."
He said the mistake slipped through quality control because it was a rush job. "It was a stupid, stupid error," he said.
Last updated: 19 January 2015
Andron, Scott. "James Earl Gaffe Has a Plaque Maker for Lauderhill in Retreat." The Miami Herald. 17 January 2002. Campbell, Dwayne. "Mix-Up Has Plaque Honoring Accused MLK Killer Instead of Black Actor." South Florida Sun-Sentinel. 15 January 2002.