The Soviet Revolution of 1918 put Capitalist all over the world on notice. The idea of the poor banding together to overthrow the rich was terrifying to the world establishment. In America, the group most likely to foment that type of rebellion was African Americans. Army Intelligence began an extensive investigation of all black liberation organization.
Black people had been organizing for civil rights since the Civil War. After Reconstruction there were numerous efforts to retain and expand voting rights, education access, and employment opportunities. Army Intelligence began surveying these efforts for Communist influence in 1917.
The first member of Dr. King’s family with an FBI file was Reverend A.D. Williams, King’s maternal grandfather. He was pastor at Ebeneezer Baptist Church, which was known as an institute of agitation in the Atlanta area. Williams was the first president of the Atlanta NAACP. Martin Luther King Sr. inherited both the government surveillance and the pastor-ship in 1931. Scrutiny was increased by the government as Daddy King became involved with the National Negro Congress (NNC). At the time the government believed the NNC was working with the Soviets to overthrow the government and build a black ethno-state.
Army Intelligence began a file of Martin Luther King Jr in 1947 during his freshman year in college. King Jr was involved in the intercollegiate council and one of the facility liaison’s was a suspected communist.
One of Dr. King’s early connections to the Communist movement was Stanley Levison. It was true that Levison was connected to the communist party early on but broke all ties in 1957 before he met King. Many members of the American Communist party left once that saw the atrocities committed by the Soviet Union. Levison did help secure funds for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) through other former Communists.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation had an independent effort to investigate Communist in the black liberation movement. J. Edgar Hoover made his personal feelings know on the black liberation movement known in a 1958 Congressional testimony. He believed the Civil Rights Movement was a ploy to allow Communists to infiltrate and take over America. As the work of Lerone Martin shows, the Bureau had a coordinated effort to implant conservative pastors in white and black churches that support the status quo. They also kept a close eye of revolutionary pastor such as Dr. King.
In 1962, an FBI investigation was done to determine if Dr. King and other Civil Rights Leaders had contact with communist. The investigation proved that the Civil Rights Movement had not been infiltrated. In fact, the movement was too religious to be influenced by atheists.
Later in the same year King criticize the FBI, calling them a tool of White Supremacy. He went even further in saying that a segregationist couldn’t investigate an integration movement in impartial manner. Hoover responded by calling King a Communist in from of the National Women’s Press Club. This personal feud between Hoover and King will last the rest of King’s life. The FBI’s investigation and sabotage of King was fueled by personal vengeance, not any provable ties to the Communist Party.
The next associate King was affiliated with that was said to have communist ties was Stokley Carmichael. Carmichael was a chairman in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was know for criticizing King’s stands on non-violence. The intelligence community alleged that Carmichael was working with the Organization of Latin American Solidarity (OLAS), which was training black guerrillas in Cuba.
King was very clear on his feelings about Stokley Carmichael. Both men believed in stopping interventionist wars and advancing Civil Rights. Carmichael never advocated racism or direct violence in front of Dr. King. King also did not view Carmichael’s position on black separation as racist. He understood Carmichael’s position did not come from the belief that whites were inferior but frustration in the advancement of a movement. Essentially, Carmichael did not want to be surrounded by people that meant him harm. So violence would only be part of Carmichael’s movement if white infringed on black self-determination. King made clear he would not advocate for violence under any circumstance.
Excerpts from conversations that were recorded by Army Intelligence that were published in a 1993 article by the Memphis Commercial Appeal show King advocated for non-violence when talking to Carmichael. King was steadfast in the position that the black man had a place in America and the destiny of all Americans was tied together. So again Martin Luther King showed no ill will toward the government.
The FBI went on a smear campaign of King led by Solomon Michaux. FBI henchmen would attack King’s credentials as a clergyman. Rumors began that King was not only adulterous, but a sex addict. Other henchmen claimed King only used the position as preacher for political advantage. The most sinister act in this campaign was sending king an “anonymous” bundle of tapes with a letter. The tapes were audio of someone having sex. The letter stated that these tapes would be pegged to Dr. King to destroy his name if he did not leave the spotlight or commit suicide.
King made two attempts to squelch the animosity between him and Hoover. In 1964, the men met to personally discuss the Civil Rights Movement. Hoover flew into a rage and went on an hour long diatribe attacking King. In 1965, King sent a delegation of pastors to make the case that King and the SCLC did not have communist ties. Hoover and the rest of the Bureau denied any crusade to sabotage or discredit King.
Many throughout the years have speculated that King was assassinated by government force or James Earl Ray did not act alone. The first investigation to absolve the Memphis police Department was 1977. It was followed by the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1979. The most prominent investigator is Dr. William Pepper. Dr. Pepper was the man that aided in King coming to his anti-war Vietnam stance. Also, Pepper got King involved with the National Conference for new Politics. To date, Dr. Pepper has written three books on the governments role in the King assassination.
In 1999, a Civil lawsuits was levied against Loyd Jowers. Jowers was a cook in the restaurant below the boarding house Ray stayed at and allegedly fired the fatal shot. This trial concluded Jowers and a host of government agencies conspired to kill King
The Department of Justice conducted a counter investigation in 2000 to debunk the results of the Jowers trial. The summary of the investigation can be found online and in the “Source” links below. Ultimately, they dismiss evidence in the trial as hear-say evidence and point to inconsistencies in the testimonies since the time of King’s death. The report never denies the FBI surveiled King and his family or conducted a defamation campaign. The report denies direct government involvement in King’s death set in motion by Hoover or Johnson. Most people that study the investigation find it odd that King was killed one year to the day of his famous anti-war Riverside Church speech. The report from the year 2000 came to the same conclusions as government investigations in 1977 and 1979, that James Earl Ray was the lone shooter.
- “Army Feared King Secretly Watched Him” by S Tompkins Memphis Commercial Appeal 3-21-1993 HERE
- Bureau Clergyman: How the FBI Colluded with an African American Televangelist to Destroy Dr. Martin Luther King Jr by L. Martin Religion and American Culture 2018
- “New Book Looks at Martin Luther King Jr’s Dangerous Friendship” on KPBS News uploaded 01-15-2015 This is an interview with author Ben Kain
- “King’s New York Connection: MLK Jr’s Friendship with Stanley Levison”by M Schuerman http://www.wnyc.org
- “Stanley David Levison” http://www.kinginstitute.stanford.edu
- “Martin Luther King’s Dangerous Friendship” by B. Kamin http://www.foward.com/culture
- “The FBI and Martin Luther King” by D. Garrow http://www.theatlantic.com
- June 2000 Investigation of the Recent Allegations Regarding the Assissination of Dr. Martin Luther King HERE
- National Archives Record of 1979 House Select Committee on Assissinations HERE