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King was charged with listing his income as $9,150 instead of what the state alleged — $16,162 — according to newspaper reports. Another of King’s attorneys, W. Robert Ming Jr., argued that the state used “fraudulent techniques.” In his closing arguments, Ming didn’t focus on King’s race. Instead, he told the jury that a guilty verdict would set a disturbing precedent.

“If you men in the jury go home and add up your bank deposits and want the state to consider that your total income, which is taxable, then you will convict the defendant,” Ming was quoted as telling jurors before deliberations.

Deliberating for less than four hours, the all-white jury issued its not guilty verdict on May 28, 1960.

Coretta Scott King later said in her own book that “a southern jury of 12 white men had acquitted Martin. It was a triumph of justice, a miracle that restored your faith in human good.”

King later called the verdict a turning point in his life. In the foreword to the book “Deep in My Heart” by William Kunstler, King wrote that “defeat seemed certain, and we in the freedom movement braced ourselves for the inevitable.”

Ironically, Ming would later go to prison on tax charges, and King’s father, along with many other notable supporters, wrote to the U.S. Parole Board in hopes of freeing him.

“In the days when my son Martin Luther King Jr. lived and was struggling in what proved to be his destined way to bring full freedom to black citizens in their own country, Bob Ming came to the legal assistance of Martin, Ralph D. Abernathy and others who worked with them,” he wrote in the March 23, 1973, letter, now archived at Howard University.

Ming died not longer after the 1973 letter after a fall in a prison shower.

One of Mr. Dyer’s last interviews was with former Alabama Gov. John Patterson. The former governor told Mr. Dyer that he remembered how the prosecutor and revenue commissioner didn’t want to pursue a trial against King, but that they followed orders.

Mr. Patterson, all those years later, regretted bringing King to trial and told Mr. Dyer that the jury “took the high ground,” according to Mr. Dyer.

Expressing remorse,” Mr. Patterson called the trial “a dumb thing to do … and it made me look foolish,” Mr. Dyer wrote in his paper.

“You’ve got to give King credit,” Mr. Patterson told Mr. Dyer. “We were wrong, and he fought the thing.”