Unknown to the American public and revealed by renowned historian Professor Beverly Gage in a 2014 New York Times Magazine article, Martin Luther King Jr. received a hideous and threatening anonymous letter, the purpose of which was to intimidate him.
MLK suspected that this letter was an initative of the FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. According to Prof. Beverly Gage:
The note is just a single sheet gone yellow with age, typewritten and tightly spaced. It’s rife with typos and misspellings and sprinkled with attempts at emending them. Clearly, some effort went into perfecting the tone, that of a disappointed admirer, appalled by the discovery of “hidious [sic] abnormalities” in someone he once viewed as “a man of character.”
The word “evil” makes six appearances in the text, beginning with an accusation: “You are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that.” In the paragraphs that follow, the recipient’s alleged lovers get the worst of it. They are described as “filthy dirty evil companions” and “evil playmates,” all engaged in “dirt, filth, evil and moronic talk.” The effect is at once grotesque and hypnotic, an obsessive’s account of carnal rage and personal betrayal. “What incredible evilness,” the letter proclaims, listing off “sexual orgies,” “adulterous acts” and “immoral conduct.” Near the end, it circles back to its initial target, denouncing him as an “evil, abnormal beast.” (The New York Times Magazine, November 11, 2014)
The letter contained references to MLK’s personal life, it intimated that if he did not conform, he could be blackmailed into submission:
The unnamed author suggests intimate knowledge of his correspondent’s sex life, … It concludes with a deadline of 34 days “before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.”
“There is only one thing left for you to do,” the author warns vaguely in the final paragraph. “You know what it is.”
Martin Luther King was assassinated on August 4th, 1968. According to Beverly Gage, the letter was sent to him in November 1994, four years prior to his assassination:
When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. received this letter, nearly 50 years ago, he quietly informed friends that someone wanted him to kill himself — and he thought he knew who that someone was. Despite its half-baked prose, self-conscious amateurism and other attempts at misdirection, King was certain the letter had come from the F.B.I. Its infamous director, J. Edgar Hoover, made no secret of his desire to see King discredited. A little more than a decade later, the Senate’s Church Committee on intelligence overreach confirmed King’s suspicion.
Since then, the so-called “suicide letter” has occupied a unique place in the history of American intelligence — the most notorious and embarrassing example of Hoover’s F.B.I. run amok. For several decades, however, only significantly redacted copies of the letter were available for public scrutiny. This summer, while researching a biography of Hoover, I was surprised to find a full, uncensored version of the letter tucked away in a reprocessed set of his official and confidential files at the National Archives. The uncovered passages contain explicit allegations about King’s sex life, rendered in the racially charged language of the Jim Crow era. Looking past the viciousness of the accusations, the letter offers a potent warning for readers today about the danger of domestic surveillance in an age with less reserved mass media.
‘You Are Done’: The letter sent to King by the F.B.I. (One person’s name has been obscured because The Times could not verify or disprove the claims about her.)
NATIONAL ARCHIVES, COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND
The F.B.I.’s entanglement with King began not as an inquiry into his sex life but as a “national security” matter, one step removed from King himself. In 1961, the bureau learned that a former Communist Party insider named Stanley Levison had become King’s closest white adviser, serving him as a ghostwriter and fund-raiser. … Around the same time, King began to criticize bureau practices in the South, accusing Hoover of failing to enforce civil rights law and of indulging the racist practices of Southern policemen.
This combination of events set Hoover and King on a collision course. In the fall of 1963, just after the March on Washington, the F.B.I. extended its surveillance from Levison and other associates to King himself, planting wiretaps in King’s home and offices and bugs in his hotel rooms.
…. F.B.I. officials began to peddle information about King’s hotel-room activities to friendly members of the press, hoping to discredit the civil rights leader. To their astonishment, the story went nowhere. … In 1964, the Civil Rights Act passed Congress, and just a few months later King became the youngest man ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
At this point Hoover decided to escalate his campaign. On Nov. 18, 1964 — 50 years ago this week — Hoover denounced King at a Washington news conference, labeling him the “the most notorious liar in the country.” A few days later, one of Hoover’s deputies, William Sullivan, apparently took it upon himself to write the anonymous letter and sent an agent to Miami, to mail the package to Atlanta. (emphasis added)
Read the complete article of Prof Beverly Gage
Professor Gage concludes her article with reference to the current F.B.I. director, James Comey, who “keeps a copy of the King wiretap request on his desk as a reminder of the bureau’s capacity to do wrong.”
Professor Gage points to the
“possibility that agencies like the N.S.A. or the F.B.I. will use such information not to serve national security but to carry out personal and political vendettas. King’s experience reminds us that these are far from idle fears, conjured in the fevered minds of civil libertarians. They are based in the hard facts of history.”