1964 November 21

FBI Sends Infamous Blackmail Letter to Dr. Martin Luther King


The FBI, in probably its most vicious attack on any single individual, on this day mailed an anonymous letter to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King containing recordings of King engaging in what the FBI regarded as extramarital sexual activity. The letter was part of the FBI’s attempt to “neutralize” King as a civil rights leader, a strategy it adopted as an official plan on December 23, 1963. The recordings on the tape were derived from secret and illegal surveillance of King by the FBI using listening devices (called “bugs”) placed in hotel rooms and other locations where the FBI knew King would be. (The FBI installed the first bug on January 5, 1964.)

While Attorney General Robert Kennedy approved wiretaps on King on October 10, 1963, he did not approve the use of the far more intrusive “bugs.” The letter and the tape recording sent to King has been sealed by a judge, and it is not publicly available.

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

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

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

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