The Time Florida Accidentally Honored James Earl Ray—Instead of Jones—on MLK Day

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In 2002, the town of Lauderhill, Florida, invited distinguished actor James Earl Jones to be the keynote speaker at its Martin Luther King Day celebration.

To express their appreciation to Jones, the town worked with a local company to have a plaque made that thanked him for “Keeping the Dream Alive.” The plaque featured images of special edition U.S. stamps that honored black men and women, including Harriet Tubman, poet Paul Dunbar, and Martin Luther King, Jr., himself.

It should have been a lovely tribute to an accomplished man on a solemn occasion. Instead, it ended up being a horrific homage to the man who assassinated King: Someone had made the plaque out to James Earl Ray instead of James Earl Jones.

Jet magazine

The mistake was caught before the piece was unveiled in public, but the damage was already done. Company owner Herbert Miller swore no one had purposely maligned the late civil rights leader and offered two reasons for the horrible mistake. "We have a lot of people who don't speak English. One of the girls who doesn't know James Earl Jones from a man on the moon accidentally typed James Earl Ray,” Miller said.

He also said the same worker had just designed a plaque made out to “Ray Johnson,” and suggested that somehow the “Ray” from the previous template had gotten carried over to this one.

Whatever the case may have been, a replacement plaque honoring the correct person was completed in time for Jones’ appearance. Jones himself took the misprint in stride: “I think we have much bigger things to worry about,” he said.