Document of the Day: The FBI tried to blackmail Martin Luther King into killing himself

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image via David J. Garrow, ‘The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr.’ (New York, 1981), pp. 125‑126)

Though the right and even the mainstream frequently try to co-opt and sugarcoat Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy, it is worth remembering just how radical Dr. King was. People familiar with U.S. history may not be surprised that the FBI was obsessed with and spied on King. But even the jaded may be surprised to learn the the FBI actually threatened King and encouraged him to kill himself.

In 1964, the FBI mailed Dr. King a letter as well as, apparently, an audio recording of King in bed with several women. The fake author is an African-American who is disgusted by the leader’s moral shorting comings:

King, look into your heart. You know you are a complete fraud and a great liability to all of us Negroes. White people in this country have enough frauds of their own but I am sure they don’t have one at this time anywhere near your equal. I repeat you are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that. You could not believe in God… Clearly you don’t believe in any personal moral principles.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.

The fake King-hater is so disgusted, in fact, he urges King to kill himself:

King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.

Now, you may think I–a socialist-summer-camp-attending-Wesleyan-graduating-Feministing-blogger–am being overly dramatic and paranoid in my interpretation of the letter. But this is also the view you will find in a congressional committee report on the FBI and Martin Luther King:

The nature of the Bureau’s campaign against Dr. King is vividly illustrated by one incident. Shortly after Director Hoover’s press conference in November 1964, in which he referred to Dr. King as the country’s “most notorious liar,” (50) a package was mailed to Dr. King. It contained an anonymous diatribe against the civil rights leader and a copy of an electronic surveillance tape, apparently to lend credence to threats of exposure of derogatory personal information made in the letter. (51) The committee was unable to locate the original letter, but an apparently authentic copy was found in the files of Assistant Director Sullivan. The final paragraph clearly implied that suicide would be a suitable course of action for Dr. King.

You can find a photocopy and transcript of the entire letter here. And check out our roundup of links honoring King’s legacy from yesterday.

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 11.13.50 PM Katie Halper is an editor at Feministing who first heard about this shameful FBI incident from her mother.


Born and raised on the mean streets of New York City’s Upper West Side, Katie Halper is a comic, writer, blogger, satirist and filmmaker based in New York. Katie graduated from The Dalton School (where she teaches history) and Wesleyan University (where she learned that labels are for jars.) A director of Living Liberally and co-founder/performer in Laughing Liberally, Katie has performed at Town Hall, Symphony Space, The Culture Project, D.C. Comedy Festival, all five Netroots Nations, and The Nation Magazine Cruise, where she made Howard Dean laugh! and has appeared with Lizz Winstead, Markos Moulitsas, The Yes Men, Cynthia Nixon and Jim Hightower. Her writing and videos have appeared in The New York Times, Comedy Central, The Nation Magazine, Gawker, Nerve, Jezebel, the Huffington Post, Alternet and Katie has been featured in/on NY Magazine, LA Times, In These Times, Gawker,Jezebel, MSNBC, Air America, GritTV, the Alan Colmes Show, Sirius radio (which hung up on her once) and the National Review, which called Katie “cute and some what brainy.” Katie co-produced Tim Robbins’s film Embedded, (Venice Film Festival, Sundance Channel); Estela Bravo’s Free to Fly (Havana Film Festival, LA Latino Film Festival); was outreach director for The Take, Naomi Klein/Avi Lewis documentary about Argentine workers (Toronto & Venice Film Festivals, Film Forum); co-directed New Yorkers Remember the Spanish Civil War, a video for Museum of the City of NY exhibit, and wrote/directed viral satiric videos including Jews/ Women/ Gays for McCain.

Katie is a writer, comedian, filmmaker, and New Yorker.

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