1963 December 23

FBI Plans to “Neutralize” Dr. Martin Luther King


In one of the most notorious events in the history of the FBI, Bureau officials met on this day and formalized a plan to “neutralize” Dr. Martin Luther King. The vendetta against King included wiretapping, bugging, planting spies in his organizations, sabotaging speaking appearances, and sending both him and his wife Coretta a notorious “blackmail” tape purporting to record him in extramarital activities (November 21, 1964). The letter to King strongly suggested that he commit suicide as a solution to his “problems.”

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was deeply racist and had opposed civil rights activity throughout his career. Not all of his actions were unauthorized, however. Attorney General Robert Kennedy authorized wiretaps on King on October 10, 1963. However, different listening devices, called “bugs,” were first installed on King’s hotel rooms on January 5, 1964, and were not officially authorized by any attorney general. By their very nature, “bugs” are far more intrusive than wiretaps since they collect information from living rooms and bedrooms and record non-telephone conversations. On November 18, 1964, Hoover publicly called King the “most notorious liar” in the country. At a hastily called meeting between the two on December 1, 1964, Hoover provided information that King immediately recognized as that which could only have come from covert intelligence gathering. King left the meeting deeply shaken.

Read the Church Committee report on the FBI’s vendetta against King (pp. 79-184), and the plan to “neutralize” him (pp. 133–34):

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

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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