1964 January 8

FBI’s William C. Sullivan Proposes Bureau Promote “A New Negro Leader”


William C. Sullivan, assistance director of the FBI, on this day proposed that the FBI select a “new negro leader” to replace Rev. Martin Luther King.FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was deeply racist, and as he told President Dwight D. Eisenhower on October 10, 1956, was convinced that the civil rights movement was influenced by Communists. Hoover feared Martin Luther King, in particular, because of his charisma and steadily growing influence over the years.

By the 1960s, the FBI launched a vendetta against King. Two weeks before William Sullivan’s proposal on this day, the FBI had decided on its notorious plan to “neutralize” King on December 23, 1963. And on January 5, 1964, the FBI had installed the first of its secret and unauthorized listening devices (“bugs”) in King’s hotel rooms. Sullivan’s memo characterized King as a “fraud, demagogue and scoundrel,” reflecting the views of J. Edgar Hoover and other top FBI officials. Sullivan offered the name of a new leader he had in mind, but the name was deleted in the document published by the Senate Church Committee report (see below). The new leader could be established, he advised, “without the Bureau in any way becoming directly involved,” and the result would be “a fine thing for the country at large.”

The FBI’s vendetta against King continued to escalate. On November 18, 1964, J. Edgar Hoover called King the “most notorious” liar, and on November 21, 1964 the FBI mailed King an infamous blackmail letter that clearly suggested he should commit suicide.

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

Learn more about the FBI’s vendetta against King: Read: David Garrow, The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1981)

Read: Athan Theoharis, The FBI & American Democracy: A Brief Critical History (2004)

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