By 2027, the expiration of the judicial seal on Dr. King’s wiretapped extramarital meetings with his concubine may rubbish his reputation.
Dr. King started an intellectual revolution with the Civil Rights Movement in America, and the government – bent on abusing the rights of Blacks, did all it could to curb the movement.
Despite all reports proving that Dr. King was leading a non-violent movement, the American government commissioned the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) to all it could to stop the Civil Rights Movements, which was fast gaining momentum.
To get official backing to investigate and prosecute Dr. King, the Director of the F.B.I., J. Edgar Hoover – who was renowned for his intelligence in curbing threats relating to Communism, labeled Martin Luther King as a Communist threat.
Even though there was no proof to back the claims that Dr. King supported the communist movement in any way, the government approved the request by the F.B.I. to investigate him. In 1962, America’s Attorney General, Robert Kennedy, approved a request filed by the F.B.I. Director to wiretap the home and office of Stanley David Levison, a New York City-based lawyer and top legal adviser to Martin Luther King.
According to the F.B.I., their informant identified Levison as an influential member of the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) and has been active as far back as 1956.
Soon, the F.B.I. also got approval through its domestic counterintelligence program, COINTELPRO, to carry out surveillance on Dr. King, stating that it was a matter of national security. It would be later revealed that Hoover and his federal agents knew that their surveillance would not yield any positive results relating to the Communist movement.
However, what they were after was information that they could use to blackmail Dr. King, and they found a substantial amount of it. As a result of their wiretaps, they recorded conversations between Dr. King and his concubine, whom he often met in a private room at Washington’s Willard Hotel between 1963 and 1968. They were also able to gain recordings and transcripts of his extramarital affairs.
As was their initial plan, Director J. Edgar Hoover and his agents tried to blackmail Dr. King with the evidence to blackmail him to withdrawing his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement and commit suicide.
William Sullivan, head of the F.B.I.’s domestic intelligence division, drafted an anonymous letter to Dr. King, informing him that they had evidence of his extramarital affairs and sexual activities. He accompanied the letter with a tape recording of extramarital affairs. Being a revered civil rights leader, a renowned preacher, and a respected family man, the F.B.I. hoped that the blackmail would forever cripple Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement.
In the letter, William Sullivan set a deadline of 34 days “before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation” and concluded by saying, “There is only one thing left for you to do.”
According to Senate investigations in 1975, a draft of the said letter was found in Sullivan’s files, but he expressly denied knowledge of the letter and pointed accusing fingers at F.R.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover as being the one behind the conspiracy.
The reports also disclosed that although the F.B.I. stopped wiretapping King’s home in April 1965 and his office the following year—it continued investigating him until his assassination in Memphis on April 4, 1968.
Most disheartening was the report that the F.B.I., upon seeing that Dr. King was not ready to abandon the Civil Rights Movement, send a copy of the tape to his wife.
Bothered that the continuous documentation of the said take would discredit Dr. King’s legacy, his former assistant, Bernard Lee sued the F.B.I. for damages concerning its surveillance on Dr. King and pleaded with the court to order that the tapes be destroyed.
Rather than granting his plea, a federal judge in the case denied Lee’s request that surveillance tapes and transcripts be destroyed. Instead, he ordered that the F.B.I. turn the tape and documents over to the National Archives, where they should remain sealed for 50 years.
In 2027, the seal on the tape and documents of Dr. King’s extramarital affairs will be available to the press and general public – something critics have said tends to rubbish King’s legacy.
Below is a copy of the original article published by the Times’s print before the start of online publication in 1996. The article documents the judicial order that prevents the tape and documents from public access.
A federal judge today ordered the Federal Bureau of Investigation to turn over all tapes and transcripts gathered in the wiretapping of the. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the National Archives and directed that they be kept there under seal for 50 years.
A suit for damages had been brought by Bernard Lee, former assistant to the slain civil rights leader, and by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which Mr. King headed until his death in 1968.
They charged that the F.B.I. tape-recorded Mr. King’s conversations in a room at Washington’s Willard Hotel between 1963 and 1968. Mr. Lee had charged that the F.B.I. tape‐recorded conversations in the hotel room in 1963 and then sent a copy of the tape to Mrs. King in 1964.
Federal Judge John Lewis Smith Jr. ordered that the archivists of the United States “shall take such actions as are necessary to the preservation of said tapes and documents but shall not disclose the tapes or documents, or their, contents,” except by an order from a court.