Why did the FBI spy on MLK

What were the FBI's motives for trying to discredit MLK?

J. Edgar Hoover's FBI had a vengeance against Martin Luther King Jr.They wiretapped him, threatened to expose his sexual misconduct, accused him of communist sympathies and even sent him a letter encouraging suicide (though ) Some claim it just told him to step down from the leadership. It is easy to believe that the FBI was only trying to discredit the civil rights movement as a whole and that one of their castration strategies was to remove the figurehead or break the movement up. But the report by William Sullivan, author of the threatening letter, tells a different story, namely that he hoped they could put Samuel Pierce at the forefront of the movement to minimize the shock of King's removal. According to his autobiography, he wrote the following in a letter to Hoover:

It should be clear to all of us that at an opportune time in the future, Martin Luther King must be revealed to the people of this land and its negroes for what he really is - a deceiver, demagogue and villain. Presenting the true facts regarding his activities should be enough, if handled properly, to take him off his pedestal and completely lessen his influence. If this is done, and if it can and will be done, there will obviously be a great deal of confusion, especially among the Negroes ... The Negroes will be left without a national leader with enough convincing personality to steer them in the right direction. This could happen, but it doesn't have to happen if the right kind of Negro national leader could gradually be developed at this point to help Dr. To overshadow King and to be able to take the role of leading the Negro people when King was completely discredited.

I have been thinking about this matter for several months. One day I had the opportunity to examine this from a philosophical and sociological point of view with an acquaintance whom I have known for a number of years. I asked him to pay some attention to the matter and if he knew a Negro of outstanding intelligence and ability to do so, let me know and we would have a discussion. He gave me the name of the person named above. Attached to this memorandum is an outline of the biography (of the person) which is truly remarkable for such a young man. If you scan this bio, you will see that (Samuel Pierce) has all of the negro-type qualifications I envision to rise to positions of national leadership ...

If this thing can be set up properly without the Bureau being directly involved in any way, I think it would be a great help not only to the FBI, but also a good thing for the entire country. While I'm not specifying at the moment, there are several different ways the FBI could give this whole matter the right direction and development. There are high-level contacts within the FBI who could be very helpful in moving such a move forward. These can be discussed in detail later when I have delved into the possibilities.

So what is it Have they tried to empower the movement by replacing the king with a better leader (untouched by infidelity and communism) or destroyed it by removing the king and leaving the movement headless (or at least without such a charismatic leader? )? Or maybe there is a third option.

Of course, the "motives" of an entire institution can hardly be determined, but for the purposes of this question I am interested in the motives of Hoover, Clyde Tolson and Sullivan and can be determined from the historical records. Anyone else you deem relevant would also be welcome.


eff.org/deeplinks/2014/11/… So the goal was for it to be destroyed by itself due to infighting. I'm not sure about the motives.

Mr. Bultitude

What you define as a "goal" is exactly what I am looking for in terms of motives. But what the article claims contradicts the words of Sullivan himself, which I will add to the main body of my question. I'm not saying the article is wrong, but it does mean that either Sullivan is a liar or the article misrepresents his views.

Ben Crowell

For comparison: The FBI collected a 1,427-page file on Albert Einstein, tapped his cell phone, searched his garbage and tied him to "Communist-sympathetic" organizations like the American Crusade Against Lynching. The impression I get is that Hoover was just a little bit crazy.


Given their paranoia, probably because he might be a communist revolutionary.


I suspect you are reconsidering.

Given that the USSR exploited every sympathizer for its nefarious purposes (cf. atomic spies, communists in the State Department, etc.) and that Hoover as FBI director was well aware of this (much more so than the general public!), He was himself Aware of this, it is not surprising that he viewed anyone who leaned to the left as suspicious and wanted to undermine them.

For example, the FBI also spied on Einstein, even though his political views were hardly communist.


FBI records show that COINTELPRO resources are targeting groups and individuals whom the FBI deemed subversive, including Vietnam War organizers, civil rights activists or the Black Power movement (e.g., Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Panthers Party), feminist organizations, anti-colonial movements (such as Puerto Rican independence groups like the Young Lords), and a variety of organizations that were part of the broader New Left. White supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan have also been targeted.


I find the voting confusing. A framing challenge (or challenging the assumptions in a question as part of an answer) is a valid form of answer, and the logic presented is appropriately designed.

Mr. Bultitude

I'm not sure Einstein is the best example. He was an avowed socialist and an admirer of Lenin. Both would certainly be enough during the Rote Angst to call someone a communist.