1964 December 1

Tense J. Edgar Hoover-Martin Luther King Meeting


Civil rights leader Martin Luther King and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had a tense meeting on this day in Hoover’s office. A public conflict between the two had erupted when King criticized the FBI for failing to enforce civil rights and Hoover replied by calling King the “most notorious liar” in the country. The meeting was allegedly designed to heal the rift. At the meeting, however, Hoover told King a number of things about his activity that King realized could only have come from intensive surveillance, including wiretapping. King left the meeting deeply shaken about the extent of FBI spying on his activities.

The FBI vendetta against King was already under way. A year earlier, on December 23, 1963, the FBI had decided on a program to “neutralize” him as a civil rights leader. Attorney General Robert Kennedy has approved wiretaps of King on October 10, 1963. The FBI installed the first “bugs” (surveillance listening devices), which the attorney general had not approved, on January 5, 1964. And on November 21, 1965, the FBI sent a notorious anonymous letter to King, with a separate one to his wife Coretta, containing tape recordings of King allegedly having extramarital sexual relations, and with a strong suggestion that he commit suicide.

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

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

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

Find a Day

Abortion Rights ACLU african-americans Alice Paul anti-communism Anti-Communist Hysteria Birth Control Brown v. Board of Education Censorship CIA Civil Rights Civil Rights Act of 1964 Cold War Espionage Act FBI First Amendment Fourteenth Amendment freedom of speech Free Speech Gay Rights Hate Speech homosexuality Hoover, J. Edgar HUAC Japanese American Internment King, Dr. Martin Luther Ku Klux Klan Labor Unions Lesbian and Gay Rights Loyalty Oaths McCarthy, Sen. Joe New York Times Obscenity Police Misconduct Same-Sex Marriage Separation of Church and State Sex Discrimination Smith Act Spying Spying on Americans Vietnam War Voting Rights Voting Rights Act of 1965 War on Terror Watergate White House Women's Rights Women's Suffrage World War I World War II Relocation Camps


Tell Us What You Think

We want to hear your comments, criticisms and suggestions!