1963 June 22

President Kennedy Pressures Dr. Martin Luther King to Remove Alleged Communist Associates


After a meeting of top civil rights leaders at the White House on this day, President John Kennedy took the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for a walk in the Rose Garden and advised him to fire two associates who were alleged Communists. King had previously received the same advice from Attorney General Robert Kennedy and another White House aide. King rejected the advice on each occasion.

The principal King aide in question was Stanley Levison who had been a Communist Party member through the 1950s, but had left the Party. (The other was Jack O’Dell.) Levison became King’s closest adviser, and there is no evidence of any Communist influence in his work with King. The attack on Levison reflected the Cold War attitude that “once a Communist, always a Communist.” The allegations about Levison came from J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI. The Kennedys accepted Hoover’s allegations and did not question the anti-Communist assumptions of the Cold War.

Hoover held deeply ingrained racist attitudes. He had warned President Dwight Eisenhower about Communist influence on the civil rights movement on October 24, 1956; issued a vicious memo attacking King for alleged Communist associations on October 15, 1963; and in the most outrageous act of all, on November 21, 1964, the FBI sent King an anonymous letter accusing him of immoral actions and essentially suggesting that he should commit suicide.

Read about King and the incident: Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954–63 (1988)

Read the Senate Church Committee report on this and other FBI abuses: 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)

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