Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. To honor King, it seems appropriate to remember what the government of his time (and clearly ours) did to thwart his activism.
Letters of Note published an interesting piece of correspondence this time last year. It is a letter from the FBI, written in 1964, trying to convince Martin Luther King Jr. to commit suicide.
In November of 1964, fearful of his connection to the Communist Party through Stanley Levison, the FBI anonymously sent Martin Luther King the following threatening letter, along with a cassette that contained allegedly incriminating audio recordings of King with women in various hotel rooms — the fruits of a 9 month surveillance project headed by William C. Sullivan.
Unsurprisingly, King saw the strongly worded letter as an invitation for him to take his own life, as did an official investigation in 1976 which concluded that the letter “clearly implied that suicide would be a suitable course of action for Dr. King.”
J. Edgar Hoover had decided to destroy the civil rights movement as it was considered a threat to the status quo. As a result the FBI conducted surveillance on King looking for dirt to destroy his credibility. The FBI had a divide and conquer campaign within the civil rights movement and tried to sow division by false flag operations and anonymous communications to bring terror and paranoia to the activists.
From the letter:
King, like all frauds your end is approaching. You could have been our greatest leader. You, even at an early age have turned out to be not a leader but a dissolute, abnormal moral imbecile…
Your “honorary” degrees, your Nobel Prize (what a grim farce) and other awards will not save you. King, I repeat you are done.
No person can overcome facts, not even a fraud like yourself… I repeat — no person can argue successfully against facts… Satan could not do more. What incredible evilness… King you are done.
The letter was accompanied by FBI recordings of King having extramarital sexual encounters. The FBI’s logic seems to have been that King would rather commit suicide than face the shame of being exposed as an adulterer.
As the letter concludes:
King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days in which to do it (this exact number has been selected for a specific reason, it has definite practical significance). You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.
The FBI’s campaign of state terrorism would continue throughout the 60s and 70s under the Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) and would include similar threatening correspondence, surveillance, and ultimately assassinations of political dissidents.
It might be worth considering on Martin Luther King Day the power and nature of the forces that opposed King’s vision for social and economic justice – and still do.