1964 January 5

FBI Installs First “Bug” in Martin Luther King’s Hotel Room


The FBI installed a listening device in Dr. King’s room at the Willard Hotel, Washington, D.C., on this day, marking a new stage in the FBI’s vendetta against King. Listening devices, or “bugs,” are far more intrusive than wiretaps because they capture conversations in many locations. These bugs were installed without the approval of Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who had authorized only wiretaps on October 10, 1963.

The FBI had decided on a campaign to “neutralize” King as a civil rights leader on December 23, 1963. And on November 21, 1964, the FBI mailed an anonymous package to King and his wife containing recordings of King allegedly engaged in extramarital activities (which came from the bugs, although it has never been clear that the recordings actually involved sexual activity), and strongly suggested that King should commit suicide.

The FBI’s vicious campaign against King is covered in David Garrow’s book and the Senate Church Committee investigation, Book III (see both, below).

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

Read the Church Committee report on the FBI’s vendetta against King (pp. 79–184): http://www.aarclibrary.org/publib/church/reports/book3/html/ChurchB3_0082b.htm

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

Read the monumental Three-Volume biography of Dr. King by Taylor Branch: Parting the Waters (1988); Pillar of Fire (1998); At Canaan’s Edge (2006)

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