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2017 Martin Luther King Pullout.qxp_Sheriff 9/8/07 2007 1/12/17 6:19 AM Page 1

M A R T I N L U T H E R K I N G , J R . - 2 017 E D I T I O N


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The FBI’s obsession to dishonor Dr. King, Jr. An abuse of power and authority

By Charlene M. Crowell Special to the Crusader Although much of the world has come to regard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a man of peace whose life-long efforts forged freedom, equality and justice for all, he was also plagued by a sinister plot throughout most of his adult years. An evil onslaught conceived and directed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), combined the irrational hatred of King held by Director J. Edgar Hoover with the powerful resources at his disposal, both human and material. While Dr. King marched, protested and was jailed for advocating full and equal citizenship to all, the FBI’s Hoover concocted and advanced an unfounded campaign that the civil rights movement from post World War II through the 1950s and 1960s and beyond, was a Communist threat. Dr. King, the most revered leader of the civil rights movement was labeled a party supporter and suffered a consistent stream of wiretap surveillance, vicious propaganda and frequently outright lies. The fact that Dr. King was never a Communist, did not deter Hoover from orchestrating persistent lies and unfounded accusations. Hoover’s unbridled hatred of the civil rights leader was not just bigoted, but personal, extending to many of Dr. King’s lieutenants and supporters. After all, Hoover as the FBI’s first director, became a national figure from his appointment by President Calvin Coolidge in 1924 as the Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigation, the forerunner of the FBI. Following a 1935 agency reorganization, the office was renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Hoover its first director, a position he held until his death in 1972. With increased funding from Congress, the new FBI began a technical lab but also began background checks and physical tests on its own agents. By World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt asked the FBI to expand its responsibilities to include domestic counter-intelligence as well as counter-sabotage

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investigations. With these added roles, along with the FBI’s high-profile capture of gangsters like John Dillinger and “Machine-Gun” Kelly, the FBI became the highest-profile federal law enforcement office. Its agents were admired and its leader broadly promoted as a public servant without peer. Hence, J. Edgar Hoover’s determination to thwart a growing civil rights movement was an easy extension of the nation’s earlier Red Scare. By painting the civil rights movement and its most effective leader as a Communist agent, Hoover had abundant financial resources, public admiration and the support of Congress. Presidents who were also the subjects of

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Hoover-ordered surveillance had significant diminished powers to remove the Director for fear of their own and respective personal foibles. For example, Cold War dogma that began following World War II projected Red Scares as a threat to all of democracy. Fueled by the McCarthy era’s U.S. Senate investigations and Hollywood blacklisting, a long list of producers, writers, directors and actors lost their livelihoods for either being Communist Party members or refusing to name colleagues with ties to the Communist Party. President John F. Kennedy’s now infamous and serial mistresses were also known and documented by the FBI at Hoover’s request. Other

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presidents also succumbed to Hoover’s threats, both veiled and overt. With the nation’s history of legal and social discrimination against Black people and the broad belief that Negroes were inferior to White America, Hoover was confident that his FBI-directed surveillance could be less concerned with reports documenting Communist ties than they were in smearing associations with Dr. King. Infamous innuendos of guilt by association were stridently pursued under Hoover. In his view, by discrediting Dr. King’s closest advisors, the nation’s growing admiration of the Rev. Dr. King would significantly diminish. To launch and pursue the effort against King, Hoover created the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program, also known as COINTELPRO. This unit used tools that many in law enforcement would have viewed as illegal: burglaries, planted evidence, and searches conducted without warrants. In short, COINTELPRO conducted covert investigations designed to discredit and/or disrupt those who were deemed to be ‘radical’ in Hoover’s view. Stanley Levison, a close adviser to Dr. King, was an early COINTELPRO focus. Having worked with Bayard Rustin, who had strong Communist ties, and Ella Baker, a Montgomery activist, to help raise funds in support of the Montgomery bus boycott, Levison became involved with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as well, assisting Dr. King with a variety of assignments, including that of writing and editing articles for publication. It is also important to note that the FBI’s extensive surveillance of Rustin began as early as the late 1930s and continued through the 1950s and 1960s, discovering his homosexuality and attendance at the 1957 United States Communist Party convention. This Rustin information was shared with Members of Congress that Hoover felt would make the findings public. South Carolina’s Senator Strom Thurmond, an arch-segregationist, used the FBI reports as he spoke that year on the Senate floor where he referred to Rustin as a sexual pervert and deviant on more than one occasion. By 1959, Hoover and the FBI expanded its attacks on civil rights leaders by labeling Levison a Communist agent, who was also influencing Dr. King. When Robert Kennedy became Attorney General, Hoover tried for more than a year to convince him of the Communist influence on Dr. King. Hoover continued to make allegations until AG Kennedy relented in 1962 and approved wiretaps of Levison including his conversations with Dr. King. Also during the Kennedy Administration, Hoover told a U.S. House committee that Levison was a Kremlin spy, member of the Communist party and the conduit for Communist infiltration of the civil rights movement Within the year that followed, Dr. King learned of the accusations against Levison and demanded that proof of the Communist association be produced. Even President John Kennedy urged Dr. King to fire Levison and another White associate, Jack O’Dell, for their threat to the nation’s security. (Continued on page 3)

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The FBI’s obsession to dishonor Dr. King, Jr. An abuse of power and authority

(Continued from page 2) Yet attacking King advisors was only part of the FBI strategy. During these same years, wiretaps of Dr. King’s home were augmented by wire taps of his offices, travels and meetings. Attorney General Robert Kennedy was not initially advised or aware of Hoover’s orders even though the Attorney General was his superior officer. The wiretapping of King’s travels revealed an all-too human dimension that contrasted with his public persona. Language far removed from that of his oratory was captured on wiretaps, along with conversations and visits with women other than his wife, Coretta. For Hoover, the recordings and eavesdropping revealed a deviant hypocrite with an overly active libido who was also a Communist sympathizer. For example, during a two-day stay at Washington, DC’s Willard Hotel, the FBI recorded 15 reels of tape and transcribed all of the discussions. A memo from William Sullivan, the FBI’s assistant director to Hoover wrote in part, “When the true facts concerning his activities are presented, such should be enough, if handled properly, to take him off his pedestal…. When that is done…. the Negroes will be left without a national leader of sufficiently compelling personality to steer them in the proper direction.” While Hoover’s obsession with surveillance continued, the Kennedy Administration insisted that the FBI aid the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to better deal with the Southern violence that occurred as civil rights protests continued. According to Hoover biographer Anthony Summers, “Edgar was forced to stop stonewalling requests for help…. And to join the federal government in confronting the nation’s race problems…. The Bureau had been dragooned into taking on such duties and Edgar resented it.” Following the assassination of President Kennedy, Hoover persisted in his hateful scheme to discredit Dr. King with a direct appeal to President Lyndon Johnson. Playing excerpts of undercover King recordings to LBJ, Hoover was unable to sway the President from his commitment to civil rights and related legislation. Hoover, however, remained determined to discredit Dr. King. In 1964, Marquette University announced that it would confer upon Dr. King an honorary degree. Upon learning of the honor, Hoover was incensed as he had received a similar honorary degree from Marquette in 1950. He then ordered that the National Council of Churches and the Baptist World Alliance be briefed on King’s surveillance. That same year, the summer murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi, led LBJ to again call upon the FBI for assistance. President Johnson said to a colleague at the time, “There’s three sovereignties involved. There’s the United States and there’s the State of Mississippi and there’s J. Edgar Hoover.” Although Hoover and the FBI were pressed into following the President’s directive, Hoover continued to undermine the civil rights investigation by sharing surveillance film of King walking into a hotel with an unidentified white woman with Mississippi’s own Senator

MLK leaving Hoover’s office following a meeting. James Eastland. When Dr. King was invited by Pope Paul VI to visit the Vatican that fall, Cardinal Spelman, a friend of Hoover’s, was asked to advise the Holy Father not to grant Dr. King an audience. Fortunately, the Pope ignored the request. Even when Dr. King was announced as a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Hoover’s resentment only intensified. According to Herbert Jenkins, a former Atlanta police chief, “Hoover had tried unsuccessfully to win the Prize. Many prominent Americans had been asked by Hoover to write the Nobel Committee…. but every year Hoover was passed over…. Then comes along a Negro southerner who is awarded the Prize. It was more than Hoover could stand. It just ate away at him.” Charles Bates, an FBI agent in London was directly ordered by Hoover to go to Oslo to bug Dr. King’s room for the Nobel ceremonies. He was also ordered to advise U.S. ambassadors of “what kind of guy” Dr. King really was. Dr. King even met with Hoover just days before departing for Oslo. Joining in that meeting

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were several aides to Dr. King, including Rev. Ralph Abernathy who recalled, “Mr. Hoover was very, very cold and Dr. King tried to be very, very warm. Mr. Hoover sat there in his blue suit and would not smile at all. He called us ‘boys’.” Following that meeting, a wiretap of King recorded him saying, “They are out to break me, out to get me, harass me, break my spirit.” Fortunately, a mail delay prevented the delivery of this transcript and a report to the White House before Dr. King’s departure. Hoover’s report claimed that he was suffering from depression. Relentless as ever, Hoover orchestrated even more efforts to discredit Dr. King. Stateside and in a meeting with journalists, Hoover himself said that Dr. King “was the most notorious liar in the country…. I haven’t even begun to say all I could on this subject.” Other respected journalists including but not limited to those working for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Mike Royko of the Chicago Daily News, were of-

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fered surveillance on King in hopes that articles would be written to discredit the new Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. According to Royko, a former FBI agent raised the issue after a golf game. “He casually asked me if I would be interested in reading some transcripts that concerned illicit sex things…. I thought, ‘How dumb can they be?’ I was totally sympathetic to King and his movement.” Throughout the remainder of Dr. King’s life, Hoover remained obsessed with discrediting the leader. So much so that then-Senator Walter Fritz Mondale noted, “The way Martin Luther King was hounded and harassed is a disgrace to every American.” It should also serve as a stark reminder to this generation of what the abuse of unchecked power and authority can unleash on its citizens. Charlene M. Crowell, a freelance journalist based in North Carolina, is a two-time honoree of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, including its highest honor, the A. Philip Randolph Messenger Award.

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2017 Crusader Newspaper Group Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Special Edition