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January 15, 2007


Happy birthday, Martin. Thank you.

"I may not get there with you..."

The Promised Land still seems a tad distant, though.

Readers of this blog will be particularly interested in what intelligence agencies did to Dr. King. It's pretty shocking. From the Church Commission Report, Book II, part D, subfinding d:

The FBI's campaign against Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began in December 1963, four months after the famous civil rights March on Washington, 55 when a nine-hour meeting was convened at FBI Headquarters to discuss various "avenues of approach aimed at neutralizing King as an effective Negro leader." 56 Following the meeting, agents in the field were instructed to "continue to gather information concerning King's personal activities ... in order that we may consider using this information at an opportune time in a counterintelligence move to discredit him." 57

About two weeks after that conference, FBI agents planted a microphone in Dr. King's bedroom at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. 58 During the next two years, the FBI installed at least fourteen more "bugs" in Dr. King's hotel rooms across the country. 59 Physical and photographic surveillances accompanied some of the microphone, coverage. 60
The FBI also scrutinized Dr. King's tax returns, monitored his financial affairs, and even tried to determine whether he had a secret foreign bank account. 61

In late 1964, a "sterilized" tape was prepared in a manner that would prevent attribution to the FBI and was "anonymously" mailed to Dr. King just before he received the Nobel Peace Prize. 62 Enclosed in the package with the tape was an unsigned letter which warned Dr. King, "your end is approaching . . . you are finished." The letter intimated that the tape might be publicly released, and closed with the following message:

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 (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 . . . 63

Dr. King's associates have said he interpreted the message as an effort to induce him to commit suicide. 64


The Bureau's actions against Dr. King included attempts to prevent him from meeting with world leaders, receiving honors or favorable publicity, and gaining financial support. When the Bureau learned of a possible meeting between Dr. King and the Pope in August 1964, the FBI asked Cardinal Spellman to try to arrange a cancellation of the audience. 70 Discovering that two schools (Springfield College and Marquette University) were going to honor Dr. King with special degrees in the spring of 1964, Bureau agents tried to convince officials at the schools to rescind their plans. 71 And when the Bureau learned in October 1966 that the Ford Foundation might grant three million dollars to Dr. King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference, they asked a former FBI agent who was a high official at the Ford Motor Company to try to block the award. 72

A magazine was asked not to publish favorable articles about him. 73 Religious leaders and institutions were contacted to undermine their support of him. 74 Press conference questions were prepared and distributed to "friendly" journalists. 75 And plans were even discussed for sabotaging his political campaign in the event he decided to run for national office. 76 An SCLC employee was "anonymously" informed that the SCLC was trying to get rid of her "so that the Bureau [would be] in a position to capitalize on [her] bitterness." 78 Bureau officials contacted members of Congress, 79 and special "off the record" testimony was prepared for the Director's use before the House Appropriations Committee. 80

The "neutralization" program continued until Dr. King's death. As late as March 1968, FBI agents were being instructed to neutralize Dr. King because he might become a "messiah" who could "unify, and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement" if he were to "abandon his supposed 'obedience' to 'white liberal doctrines' (nonviolence) and embrace black nationalism." 81 Steps were taken to subvert the "Poor People's Campaign" which Dr. King was planning to lead in the spring of 1968. 82 Even after Dr. King's death, agents in the field were proposing methods for harassing his widow 83 and Bureau officials were trying to prevent his birthday from becoming a national holiday. 84

The actions taken against Dr. King are indefensible. They represent a sad episode in the dark history of covert actions directed against law abiding citizens by a law enforcement agency.

"Readers of this blog will be particularly interested in what intelligence agencies did to Dr. King."

Hard to be future tense about it, I'm afraid. But thanks.

"Intelligence agencies" is a bit broad, though; King was Hoover's obsession.

I can't fathom much the barbarism of the FBI trying to induce King to commit suicide. I'm not sure I still believe that a intransparency in law enforcement agencies is more valuable than the obvious corruption that goes on.

"I can't fathom much the barbarism of the FBI trying to induce King to commit suicide."

It's extremely helpful to be familiar with J. Edgar Hoover, and his history.


This isn't a word in any dictionary I know of; what does it mean?

I love Dick Cheney. The tears are running down my cheeks with this change of heart.

Hilzoy: by some miracle all America got Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

Not a miracle. A country gets the heroes it deserves: and there is good reason why the US deserved and got MLK. Even if American belief in the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have been more often held as ideals than applied in reality, still, a country that has these ideals does sometimes find itself forced to apply them by heroes who insist that it must. Martin Luther King is one of those people in the splendid tradition of American heroism - but it wouldn't exist without the collective idealistic opinion that Americans have of themselves and that I so frequently mock. I can't resist the mockery (that's in the British tradition): but it doesn't mean I feel any less admiration for the heroes who not only live up to those ideals, but who have at times dragged the whole damn country with them.

Taking nothing away from King, it is important to remember that there were other courageous black leaders who played very important roles. One that I recall from my youth in Birmingham was the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, who led much of the activity there, despite being in constant peril of his life.

Of course there were others in other places. Most important, let's not forget the plain heroism of the many ordinary black citizens who risked a great deal, including their lives in some cases, to stand up for their rights. We should, as Americans, be grateful for their work and their example.

What the f?


This isn't a word in any dictionary I know of; what does it mean?

Purely wild-assed guess here but... the state or quality of being not transparent? As in, the obvious?

In addition to Hoover's mania, its worth remembering that conservatives in general disdained MLK and were opposed to a holiday honoring him -- see Digby.

Saint Ronnie's remarks concerning MLK assasination: it was just the sort of "great tragedy that began when we began compromising with law and order, and people started choosing which laws they'd break."

Right -- those blacks should have obeyed those Jim Crow laws and waitedly patiently for another 100 years for the laws to change. Otherwise they might just get killed, and then whose fault would it be?

@Bob McManus: Okay, a hard case for a hard case. Baby steps: recognize Hoover's humanity.

@Bob McManus: Okay, a hard case for a hard case. Baby steps: recognize Hoover's humanity.

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