Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered more than a half century ago in Memphis. Then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover has been dead almost a half century. Yet, one wouldn't know it. King is once again being slammed with the age-old charge that he was a philanderer, a pervert, and a hypocrite on sex. These were all the choice epithets that Hoover publicly and privately hurled at King when both were alive.
They are being dredged up and hurled at King again. This time courtesy of respected King biographer David Garrow who in an article quotes liberally from of all sources, the patently secret, hideous and blatantly illegal mountain of wiretaps Hoover compiled on King. In the tapes King purports to laugh at a rape, have numerous affairs and sex orgies.
Hoover had a near pathological obsession and hatred of King. He made no secret that he would do any and everything possible to hector, harass, malign and ultimately try to destroy King
Early in his brutal, no holds barred war against King, Hoover zeroed in on the one thing that he believed would bring King down. That was sex. Hoover never missed a chance to try and leak King allegedly saying zingers such as: "'I'm f*****g for God! I'm not a negro tonight!' Those quotes almost exclusively came from FBI declassified wiretaps and memos or from interviews with ex-FBI agents who shadowed King. The FBI tried to drive the dagger deeper by sending him one of their tapes anonymously which contained supposed tape 'highlights' of his sexual groans and dirty jokes.
The ex-agents could hardly be considered founts of objectivity. Many were unabashed racists, and like their boss, Hoover, were fiercely hostile to King. The tales they told purportedly based on the tapes of King soliciting and cavorting with white prostitutes, talking dirty, and having wild orgies, were concocted probably at the egging on of Hoover. Their authenticity has been repeatedly challenged.
Numerous King associates said that the sexual hijinks that Hoover said he had on the tapes were made up whole cloth and were repeatedly dredged up in the decades since King's murder to smear him and his legacy. The truth about what King did or didn't do in his private life on the road away from wife and family as always lay somewhere in between what accusers and defenders say about King's private life.
King was a fundamentalist Baptist minister in an era when the role of women, especially wives, were firmly matriarchal and centered in the home. It was one of the worst kept secrets that many ministers engaged in illicit sex within and without their churches. There was no real stigma or penalty in that era attached to their philandering. If King did engage in extramarital sexual exploits it would have been no surprise, and no surprise that whatever alleged affairs he may have had would have been winked and nodded at and ignored by friends and associates.
But in the perverse hands of Hoover, King's real or imagined sexual philandering was simply another weapon in his filthy orchestrated hate and vilification campaign against King. A campaign Hoover continues to orchestrate from the grave today. The goal now as then hasn't changed. That's to destroy King and his legacy.
The thinking went, discredit King and you discredit the civil rights movement. If King was exposed as hypocrite, cheat, and scumbag on sex, then this would wreak irreparable damage to his reputation as a principled, purer than Caesar's Wife, moral man.
Hoover's dirty little scheme to destroy King with sexual dirt flopped then because of King. He was simply too valued a leader of a movement and a cause that touched, energized, and mobilized millions. The events around the vicious state trooper assaults on demonstrators in Selma in 1965 was a textbook example of this. President Johnson not only met with King privately at least twice before and during the bloody assault, but they almost had a tag team partnership in orchestrating and coordinating the street demonstrations and congressional support for passage of the Act. This was not unusual. Johnson and King spoke at least a dozen times by phone at various times during Johnson's tenure in the White House.
Johnson would hardly have cultivated King as a quasi-ally and informal sounding board on civil rights actions if he thought he was consorting with a sex crazed, two-bit con man, and huckster. Johnson heard the tapes of King's alleged sexual escapades that Hoover giddily supplied to him. Whether he believed any of the rancid stuff or not was irrelevant to him. He needed to keep King as an ally in the push for passage of his civil rights and voting rights legislation. This didn't then or now stop the tongues from wagging about King's alleged unsavory sexual past. But they didn't toss any taint on his profound and enduring importance. This fresh round of sex smears against King won't and shouldn't either.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of Fifty Years Later: Why the Murder of Dr. King Still Hurts (Middle Passage Press) He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.
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