1964 November 18

FBI Director Hoover Calls Martin Luther King the “Most Notorious Liar”


FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover attacked Rev. Martin Luther King on this day as the “most notorious liar” in America. The attack was a response to King’s criticisms of the FBI regarding its failure to protect civil rights leaders from racist assaults. Hoover’s attack led to a meeting between the two on December 1, 1964, at FBI headquarters.  At that meeting, Hoover made reference to several things about King’s activities that King realized could have come only from wiretaps and listening devices. King was deeply shaken by the experience. (In fact, Hoover may have made his “notorious liar” comment as a way of provoking a meeting where he could clearly hint at what he knew about King.)

The FBI had already embarked on a secret and vicious campaign to destroy King as a civil rights leader. On December 23, 1963, it had decided to “neutralize” him. On January 5, 1964, agents installed the first of a series of “bugs” (listening devices, not wiretaps) in one of King’s hotel rooms. Material from this and other bugs were included in an anonymous letter the FBI sent to King containing recordings allegedly indicating King was involved in sexual escapades, and with a message seeming to tell King that his only option was to commit suicide.

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

Learn more: Curt Gentry, J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets (1991)

Read the Monumental Three-Volume Biography of King by Taylor Branch, “America in the King Years”: Parting the Waters (1998); Pillar of Fire (1998); At Canaan’s Edge (2006)

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