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“FBI wiretaps have “given us the most powerful and persuasive source of all for seeing how utterly selfless Martin Luther King was,” as a civil rights leader, according to a leading civil rights scholar. “You see him being intensely self-critical. King really and truly believed that he was there to be of service to others. This was not a man with any egomaniacal joy of being a famous person, or being a leader,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning scholar David Garrow.
Hoping to prove the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was under the influence of Communists, the FBI kept the civil rights leader under constant surveillance. The agency’s hidden tape recorders turned up almost nothing about communism. But they did reveal embarrassing details about King’s sex life — details the FBI was able to use against him. The almost fanatical zeal with which the FBI pursued King is disclosed in tens of thousands of FBI memos from the 1960s. The FBI paper trail spells out in detail the government agency’s concerted efforts to derail King’s efforts on behalf of the civil rights movement. The FBI’s interest in King intensified after the March on Washington in August 1963, when King delivered his “I have a dream speech,” which many historians consider the most important speech of the 20th century. After the speech, an FBI memo called King the “most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country.” (SEE COPY OF MEMO BELOW)
The bureau convened a meeting of department heads to “explore how best to carry on our investigation [of King] to produce the desired results without embarrassment to the Bureau,” which included “a complete analysis of the avenues of approach aimed at neutralizing King as an effective Negro leader.”
The FBI began secretly tracking King’s flights and watching his associates. In July 1963, a month before the March on Washington, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover filed a request with Attorney General Robert Kennedy to tap King’s and his associates’ phones and to bug their homes and offices. In September, Kennedy consented to the technical surveillance. Kennedy gave the FBI permission to break into King’s office and home to install the bugs, as long as agents recognized the “delicacy of this particular matter” and didn’t get caught installing them. Kennedy added a proviso — he wanted to be personally informed of any pertinent information.”
The FBI File consists of 17,000 pages of materials about Martin Luther King, Jr. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted surveillance of Rev. King from 1958 until his death. Documents have been censored and many pages include blacked-out sections. Due to a court order any information about or from FBI wiretaps have been removed and will not be released until 2027. Because of the surveillance, this file constitutes an extensive record of Rev. King’s day-to-day activities.
The King-Levison File consists of “verbatim transcripts and detailed summaries of telephone conversations between King and one of his most trusted confidants, Stanley D. Levison, a New York lawyer and businessman with whom the civil rights leader spoke on an almost daily basis for more than six years.”
LINKS TO MORE DETAILED INFORMATION: