James Earl Jones and the Lauderhill, Florida MLK Day Celebration, 2002
In 2002 James Earl Jones was invited by the town of Lauderhill, Florida to be their featured speaker at their annual Martin Luther King Day celebration. As appreciation they wanted to provide their guest with some sort of gift, so they turned to a local promotions company. The promotions company came up with a plaque that included an inscription thanking Jones for his participation surrounded by several postage stamps depicting prominent African-Americans, headed by one of MLK himself. They sent the idea off to a company in Georgetown, TX for production of the plaque.
Four days before the MLK celebration the city received the plaque, but instead of Jones’ name, the plaque read :
“Thank you James Earl Ray for keeping the dream alive. City of Lauderhill, January 19, 2002.”
Ray, of course, was the man who plead guilty to assassinating MLK at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis in 1968.
AdPro hastily checked to ensure that the blunder hadn’t been the result of a mistake on their part:
Gerald Wilcox said he knew the error didn’t come from his company, but he sent a company secretary scurrying through order forms — just to be sure.
“In all my communications with the vendor, I never used [the name James Earl Ray[/mfn]. 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.”
Miller, apparently lacking any diplomatic skills whatsoever, assuaged nobody’s feelings by blaming the error on some of his poorly-educated employees and terming the mix-up an innocent mistake that had been “blown out of proportion”:
He said some of the company’s workers are barely in their 20s, possess poor English language skills and have limited grasp of history. “[They[/mfn] don’t know who James Earl Ray is from James Earl Jones from the man in the moon,’’ he said. Miller said the worker responsible for engraving this plaque was handling another one about the same time bearing the name “Ray Johnson.” He said the “Ray” from that plaque ended up on the Lauderhill plaque, supplanting the word “Jones.”
He said the mistake slipped through quality control because it was a rush job. “It was a stupid, stupid error,” he said.
James Earl Jones brushes off engraving mistake
LAUDERHILL, Florida (AP) — James Earl Jones brushed off a mistake by an engraver who erred while inscribing a plaque meant to honor the actor during a Martin Luther King Jr. tribute.
The plaque was engraved: “Thank you James Earl Ray for keeping the dream alive.” Ray was the man convicted of assassinating King in Memphis, Tenn., in 1968.
Jones said the company made a common mistake and he’s been introduced as James Earl Ray before.
“There’s no point in getting too sensitive about it,” Jones said Saturday at the ceremony.
Instead of the plaque, the city gave Jones a colorful Ashanti stool similar to ones traditionally used as a throne in the African tribe.
Merit Industries, the plaque’s maker, said the mistake happened when an employee was preparing the Jones plaque at about the same time as one for someone named Ray Johnson.