1963 October 10

AG Robert Kennedy Approves Wiretaps on Martin Luther King


Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy approved FBI wiretaps on Rev. Martin Luther King on this day because of allegations that two of his aides had Communist associations. (See the confrontation between King and President John Kennedy regarding these allegations on June 22, 1963.) Robert Kennedy authorized the wiretaps in response to continued pressure from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Neither President Kennedy nor the attorney general ever challenged Hoover’s allegations about King and Communism. The wiretaps later embarrassed Robert Kennedy when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 1964 and for president in 1968.

The FBI conducted a vendetta against Dr. Martin Luther King, seeking to destroy him as the nation’s major civil rights leader. After President Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, the FBI on December 23, 1963, launched a major effort to “neutralize” King. And on January 5, 1964, it placed listening devices (“bugs”) to spy on King, which Kennedy had not authorized. Finally, on November 21, 1964, the Bureau sent a notorious blackmail letter to King and also to his wife. The letter contained tape recordings purporting to document King involved in extramarital sexual activity, and it included a strong suggestion that King commit suicide.

Read the Senate Church Committee report on the FBI’s vendetta against King (pp. 79–184): http://www.aarclibrary.org/publib/contents/church/contents_church_reports_book3.htm

Read: David Garrow, The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1981)

Visit the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, DC: http://www.nps.gov/mlkm/index.htm

Learn more about wiretapping from the Electronic Frontier Foundation: https://ssd.eff.org/wire/govt/wiretapping-protections

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