FBI’s Attempt to Smear, Discredit MLK Highlighted in Newly Released Documents

Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. (Courtesy photo)

A 1968 FBI document released last week further depicts the Bureau’s obsession with tainting the reputation of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Martin Luther King, Jr., A Current Analysis” came out with a public release of documents pertaining to the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy. The King analysis makes no mention of Kennedy but a stamp on the document says it was reviewed by the “FBI/JFK Task Force in 1994.

The document shows the FBI’s obsession with exposing supposed ties between King and Communism, a well-documented attempt by the Bureau that has been discredited on numerous occasions. A portion of the analysis also aims to smear King’s personal reputation, detailing alleged affairs and describing lewd sex acts committed by King. The paper even claims that King had a daughter with one of his mistresses.

Historian David Garrow rejected the document’s assertions.

“The number one thing I’ve learned in 40 years of doing this, is just because you see it in a top-secret document, just because someone had said it to the FBI, doesn’t mean it’s all accurate,” Garrow, who has conducted research and written about King’s life, reported to The Washington Post.

In addition to the Communist Party being essentially irrelevant at this point in time, the FBI’s continued surveillance of King failed to unearth ties between King and the political party. But the FBI remained “bizarrely preoccupied” with Communist influences in America, according to Garrow.

“The Communist Party, by 1968, is of no importance to anything,” he said. “These incredibly exaggerated statements of communist influence are exactly what the FBI wants to hear.”

The report is dated March 12, 1968; King was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

The FBI had fixated on King’s relationship with Stanley David Levison, who worked with the Communist Party prior to working with King, and wiretapped conversations between the men — to no avail, according to Garrow.

“But day after day, they saw nothing in those wiretaps indicating that Levison was in any way representing the Communist Party or the Soviets, or was being manipulative with King,” he said.

In a 2002 article Garrow wrote for The Atlantic, the historian notes that any information pertinent to the truth — that King was not in fact affiliated with the Communist Party — was not passed on by the FBI:

“The transcripts from the wiretaps on King and his advisers also answer a question that came to preoccupy President Lyndon Johnson just as it had the Kennedy brothers and J. Edgar Hoover: Was Martin Luther King Jr. any kind of Communist sympathizer? Of course not — but the FBI never passed along to Johnson or to anyone else what King said to Bayard Rustin one day in early May of 1965, when the SCLC was tussling with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee over a public statement proclaiming movement unity: ‘There are things I wanted to say renouncing Communism in theory but they would not go along with it. We wanted to say that it was an alien philosophy contrary to us but they wouldn’t go along with it.’ Instead the FBI continued to distribute utterly misleading reports that declared just the opposite; as one newly released CIA summary from just a few weeks before King’s death asserts, ‘According to the FBI, Dr. King is regarded in Communist circles as ‘a genuine Marxist-Leninist who is following the Marxist-Leninist line.’’”

In the recently released document, much attention is paid to King’s planned “Washington Spring Project.” The FBI describes the plan as “reportedly being staged to pressure Congress into passing legislation favorable to the Negro.”

The planned protest would include action from “black nationalist groups,” according to the paper.

A section of the document also discusses King’s alleged personal life. According to the report, gatherings of King and his associates included deviant sexual behavior.

Referring to two workshops that took place in Miami, the document claims: “One minister in attendance later expressed his disgust with the behind-the-scene drinking, fornication, and homosexuality that went on at the conference.” The minister is not identified, nor is it noted where or when he “expressed his disgust.”

“A variety of sex acts deviating from the normal were observed,” according to the FBI. Again, no reference of who observed the behavior is made.

A portion of the document is also dedicated to “King’s Mistress,” with whom King allegedly fathered a daughter, according to “a very responsible Los Angeles individual in a position to know.”

The individual is only identified as a “prominent Negro who is related by law to King’s mistress.”

“The child resembles King to a great degree and King contributes to the support of this weekend. He calls this woman every Wednesday and frequently meets her in various cities throughout the country,” according to the FBI.

The FBI’s close watch on King throughout his activism is reminiscent of the Bureau’s close watch on groups today such as Black Lives Matter. An FBI report (obtained by Foreign Policy) from August titled “Black Identity Extremists Likely Motivated to Target Law Enforcement Officers.” The report cites the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo., and the subsequent decision not to indict the officer who killed him as evidence that “Black Identity Extremists” (BIEs) are likely to target law enforcement.

“The FBI assesses it is very likely Black Identity Extremist (BIE) perceptions of police brutality against African Americans spurred an increase in premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement and will very likely serve as justification for such violence,” according to the document.

Andrew Cohen, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, drew these same parallels between the FBI’s attempts to link communism to civil rights in the King-era and today’s attempt to criminalize racial justice movements.

“The history of the FBI is the history of surveillance and intimidation of black Americans that frequently goes beyond legitimate law enforcement into paranoia, racism, and political expediency,” Cohen wrote in October.

“This was true almost 50 years ago, when J. Edgar Hoover sent his loyal line officers into black communities to try to gin up evidence designed to convince one president after another that the civil rights movement was some sort of communist plot.”

Citing the FBI document describing the so-called “BIE Movement,” Cohen wrote:

“Except there is no ‘BIE movement,’ but in the fertile mind of those within the Trump administration who want you to believe there is some sinister black force out there bent on attacking police officers. No journalists or academics have discovered and chronicled such a movement or its leaders. No such leaders have come forward to say they are part of such a movement. No one has killed a cop in the name of such a movement. The only citations to the movement, the Foreign Policy piece tells us, come from internal law enforcement writings made over the past two months.”

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