Martin Luther King once said that he became a criminal in the eyes of the FBI since his birth on 15th January 1929. Probably he never has been convinced of the contrary in his lifetime. Shortly after Martin Luther King got informed that he had won the Nobel Prize for Peace, he could read in the newspapers an interview with J. Edgar Hoover, the former FBI department chief. In this interview Hoover designated King as “the most notorious liar of the United States”. Also at a press conference Hoover spoke clearly out, what he was thinking about the black SCLC Leader. He promised that he just started with revealing “the truth” about Martin Luther King. J. Edgar Hoover wanted to uncover King as a Citizen Right Leader under the influence of the Communist Party with the aim of destroying the democratic system of the U.S.

Why was J. Edgar Hoover so sure he could inflict damage on the charismatic Martin Luther King?

After the famous “I have a dream“speech, the FBI was afraid of the “black Messiah”. They called him “the most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country“1. These times are well known in the United States as the anti-communistic containment policy. The FBI feared any possible influence and believed in the domino theory. In result of that fear Hoover wanted to install bugs in King’s House and bureau. No one less than Robert Kennedy gave in 1963 the permission for the technical surveillance. Kennedy who always was shown as a great ally of King allowed the FBI to break into Kings private rooms. Moreover Kennedy added a proviso – he always wanted to get immediately informed of any pertinent information. However, at first sight the technical surveillance was not a success. No demo tape gave any proof of a communistic influence in Kings Work. Furthermore the FBI bugs “never picked any evidence that King himself was a Communist, or was interested in toeing the party line”.2

So the bugs couldn’t give any concrete evidence. King was not a Communist, even when he had friends and associates of the Communist Party. Stanley Leviston was one of them. He was one of the immediate advisers in Kings personal environment. Also he was under steady technical surveillance but no evidence was found. King once said about the communist reproaches that “there are as many communists in this freedom movement as there are Eskimos in Florida“. But Hoover did not believe him and searched forward to find other information to inflict damage on King. And he did. The memo tapes gave evidence that King had many affairs- probably with four other women. Maybe today nobody would make a big deal about that- not after the Monika Lewinsky affair. But at these times an extramarital affair was a pretty big scandal- moreover for a Baptist pastor. Even when King affirmed his affairs and said he would have to pass God’s judgment he also knew that the general public would not be so merciful. King and Hoover met once privately to discuss this topic. Afterward King called the meeting a friendly and understanding conversation among two people. King added that all problems should be solved right now. Most probably neither King nor Hoover believed that. J. Edgar Hoover’s private contempt for King was big and he had embarrassing and private details about Kings love life- no doubt he would reveal them.

After King came back from Oslo he received anonymous and ominous letters. “You are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that.” Or “The American public (…) will know you for what you are — an evil, abnormal beast,” (…) “Satan could not do more.” (…) “King you are done.” Some people have the theory, which says that the intent was to get King to commit suicide. “King, there is only one thing left for you to do,” (…) “You know what it is … You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.”3 A draft of one letter was later found in the FBI files. King did not commit suicide but continued his work. Maybe at first sight Hoover did not win the fight with King but surely at the second sight. When King planned the march in Memphis he booked a room in a hotel of a better standard than usually. Hoover immediately began his harassment once again. From his point of view it was hypocritical to fight for the poor and to live in a well-standard hotel. Furthermore Hoover approved an FBI plan to use “friendly press contacts” to pressure Martin Luther King into staying at the Lorraine Motel.

Dr. Martin Luther King bended to Hoover’s will and moved to the Lorraine Motel. At exactly that place he got assassinated- less than 24 hours later.4


Citation: Goździelewska, Agnieszka (2009): Martin Luther King and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In: URL: [Acess: DD:MM:YYYY]


Bibliography and further reading:

Presler G., Martin Luther King, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1984.

Waldschmidt-Nelson B., Gegenspieler, Frankfurt am Main 2000.

Zitelmann A., Keiner dreht mich um, Berlin 1985.

  1. Christensen, Jen „FBI tracked King’s every move” on (31.03.2008).
  2. Ibidem.
  3. Ibidem.
  4. More Information at
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