#CointelPro and #MartinLutherKingJr

“The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began monitoring Martin Luther King, Jr., in December 1955, during his involvement with the Montgomery bus boycott, and engaged in covert operations against him throughout the 1960s. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was personally hostile toward King, believing that the civil rights leader was influenced by Communists. This animosity increased after April 1964, when King called the FBI ‘‘completely ineffectual in resolving the continued mayhem and brutality inflicted upon the Negro in the deep South’’ (King, 23 April 1964). Under the FBI’s domestic counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) King was subjected to various kinds of FBI surveillance that produced alleged evidence of extramarital affairs, though no evidence of Communist influence.

The FBI was created in 1909 as the Justice Department’s unit to investigate federal crimes. Hoover became FBI director in 1924 and served until his death in 1972. Throughout the 1930s the FBI’s role expanded when President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked the FBI to research ‘‘subversives’’ in the United States, and Congress passed a series of laws increasing the types of federal crimes falling under the FBI’s jurisdiction. During World War II, the FBI was further authorized to investigate threats to national security. This loosely defined mission formed the heading under which the FBI began to investigate the civil rights movement.
The FBI initially monitored King under its Racial Matters Program, which focused on individuals and organizations involved in racial politics. Although the FBI raised concerns as early as March 1956, that King was associating with card-carrying members of the Communist Party, King’s alleged ties with communism did not become the focus of FBI investigations under the existing Communist Infiltration Program (COMINFIL), designed to investigate groups and individuals subject to Communist infiltration, until 1962. In February 1962, Hoover told Attorney General Robert Kennedy that Stanley Levison, one of King’s closest advisors, was ‘‘a secret member of the Communist Party’’ (Hoover, 14 February 1962). In the following months, Hoover deployed agents to find subversive material on King, and Robert Kennedy authorized wiretaps on King’s home and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) offices in October 1963.

Hoover responded to King’s criticisms of the Bureau’s performance in civil rights cases by announcing at a press conference in November 1964, that King was the ‘‘most notorious liar in the country’’ (Herbers, ‘‘Dr. King Rebuts Hoover’’). Surprised by the accusation, King replied that he could only have sympathy for Hoover as he must be ‘‘under extreme pressure’’ to make such a statement (Herbers, ‘‘Dr. King Rebuts Hoover’’). King asked an intermediary to set up a meeting between himself and Hoover to understand what had led to the comment. Andrew Young, a King aide was present at the meeting, recalled that there was ‘‘not even an attitude of hostility’’ between the two, but at about this same time, the FBI anonymously sent King a compromising tape recording of him carousing in a Washington, D.C., hotel room, along with an anonymous letter that SCLC staff interpreted as encouraging King to commit suicide to avoid public embarrassment (Senate Select Committee, 167).
Hoover continued to approve investigations of King and covert operations to discredit King’s standing among financial supporters, church leaders, government officials, and the media. When King condemned the Vietnam War in a speech at Riverside Church on 4 April 1967, the FBI ‘‘interpreted this position as proof he ‘has been influenced by Communist advisers’’’ and stepped up their covert operations against him (Senate Select Committee, 180). The FBI considered initiating another formal COINTELPRO against King and fellow anti-war activist Dr. Benjamin Spock in 1967, when the two were rumored to be contemplating a run for the presidency, but ruled it out on the grounds that such a program would be more effective after the pair had officially announced their candidacy.

In August 1967, the FBI created a COINTELPRO against ‘‘Black Nationalist–Hate Groups,’’ which targeted SCLC, King, and other civil rights leaders. King was identified as a target because the FBI believed that he could become a ‘‘messiah’’ who could unify black nationalists ‘‘should he abandon his supposed ‘obedience’ to ‘white liberal doctrines’ (nonviolence) and embrace black nationalism’’ (Senate Select Committee, 180). In the last few months of King’s life, the FBI intensified its efforts to discredit him and to ‘‘neutralize’’ SCLC (Senate Select Committee, 180).
According to a U.S. Senate Committee convened in the 1970s to investigate the FBI’s domestic intelligence operations, the impact of the FBI’s efforts to discredit SCLC and King on the civil rights movement ‘‘is unquestionable’’ (Senate Select Committee, 183). The committee determined that: ‘‘Rather than trying to discredit the alleged Communists it believed were attempting to influence Dr. King, the Bureau adopted the curious tactic of trying to discredit the supposed target of Communist Party interest—Dr. King himself’’ (Senate Select Committee, 85).
Though some civil rights activists were aware that they were under surveillance, they still had to rely upon the Bureau to investigate racial discrimination cases. After the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 the FBI’s jurisdiction in segregation and voting rights cases expanded significantly, and the FBI’s arrests in the Mississippi triple murder case during Freedom Summer demonstrated some measure of public commitment to civil rights investigations.
After King’s assassination in 1968, the FBI successfully launched a large scale investigation to find his killer.

FBI Special Agent in Charge, Mobile, memo to Hoover, 4 January 1956, in Papers 3:96.

John Herbers, ‘‘Dr. King Rebuts Hoover Charges,’’ New York Times, 20 November 1964.

Hoover, Memo to Robert F. Kennedy, 14 February 1962, FBIDG-NN-Sc.
King, Statement on J. Edgar Hoover’s charge of alleged Communist infiltration of the Civil Rights Movement, 23 April 1964, MLKJP-GAMK.

O’Reilly, Racial Matters, 1989.

Senate Select Committee, Book III: Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports, 94th Cong., 2d sess., 1976, S. Rep. 94755.

Source Link: http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_federal_bureau_of_investigation_fbi/


  1. God bless the memory and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. May we all continue to lift up and believe in his dreams.

    I think we are all negroes today.

    What is truly killing me emotionally, almost more than the very real fear of a radical, right-wing, unified federal executive and legislative branches of our government is something more immediate and vexing.

    I’m talking about the normalization of DJT.

    I am told that his coronation involved great ceremony. Lively parades and the best of the Air Force, Navy and Army marching bands. Whitehouse.gov overflows with empty praise and mythification of the demon Trump. Democrats are mostly silent. Republicans no longer clearly remember any objections to their King, even those raised by their own party. Just as California accepted Schwarzeneggar as a moral and upstanding governor and the nation got used to GWB, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Gonzalez, Rice and Turdblossom as honorable, conservative Americans, so we ready to accept Trump as a decent American and indeed as the president of these United States. Scandals past, present and yet to come will simply no longer be reported. His hold on the press will solidify as our entire nation changes to a dictatorship.

    Maybe I’m wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are a few different movements to combat the normalization of the alt right and Trump’s pseudo-politics. Perhaps, you’d be interested in pitching in? A google search should yield results or I can send you some. Social Workers, teachers and psychologists (mostly) are leading these particular movements.


      • I am interested Kassandra. Never before has there been so much passion associated with a resistance movement to a sitting U.S. President and his lost political party. The time to keep the pressure up is now. I read your latest post authored by Randall Kennedy. It’s really important at this very moment.

        I always thought that the sadistic presidency of GWB had sounded the death knell for the now irrelevant republican party. Although they have bounced back rather handily, nothing has really changed to validate their political platform.

        There is no path to converting the conservative faithfull. They can only be marginalized by greater numbers. As far as the gerrymandering of state election districts, this may possibly be overstated and not permanent. Whatever it is right now will have to be overcome by a more righteous voter turnout. Turnout and registration will continue to be the key to good outcomes.

        I could probably dedicate some hours to making telephone calls to selected demographics. If I proved to be any good at it, perhaps I could help to script calls for newer volunteers.

        Liked by 1 person

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