President Lyndon B. Johnson with Martin Luther King, Jr.
(Image by LBJ Library) Permission Details DMCA
by Phillip F. Nelson and Roger Stone
Amidst all the brouhaha related to the allegedly "false" portrayal of Lyndon B. Johnson in the movie Selma caused by the LBJ Library's director, Mark Updegrove, in hid Politico Article "What Selma Gets Wrong," it is noteworthy to call to the public's attention how the "LBJ defenders" have attempted to absolve President Johnson from involvement with that sordid chapter in American history. Updegrove's article was quickly followed by one from Joseph Califano, printed in the Washington Post, that even claimed the Selma march was Lyndon Johnson's idea. All of it was quite opposite of the truth, and no amount of "LBJ revisionism" will make it fact.
From the time that Martin Luther King Jr.'s name came to national prominence in December, 1955, J. Edgar Hoover began monitoring his activities, even as King and his closest associates mistakenly presumed, according to Andrew Young, that "we thought of the FBI as our friends, the only hope we had."[i] By 1959, Hoover had decided, on his own and without higher authorization, to order his agents to burglarize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) offices to obtain personal information about Dr. King and install telephone wire taps as well as "bugs" to record non-telephonic conversations and assorted other noises. This brazenly illegal activity, of which there were many other cases in addition to King's, continued into the Kennedy administration. By 1961, the freedom rides that had begun that year revealed which side the FBI was really on, and it was not King's. Attorney General Robert Kennedy had attempted to bring the wiretapping under control, however by that time the SCLC and King had begun fighting back, culminating in a special report attacking the FBI on January 8, 1962. By then, the FBI had obtained evidence that two people in King's entourage, Stanley Levison and Jack O'Dell, had ties to the American Communist Party, making it difficult for the Kennedys to cooperate with King until that issue was dealt with or, conversely, for them to end the surveillance under the continuing pressure wielded by Hoover. [ii]
During the five years of Hoover's sleuthing before JFK was sworn in, Hoover had become obsessed with destroying King, and in 1961 he called on his Special Agents in Charge (SACs) of his field offices to cull their files for all the "subversive" information they could gather and send it to the "SOG" (as he called himself, the "Seat of Government"). Hoover's assistant, Cartha "Deke" DeLoach, was put in charge of compiling this assortment of innuendo, half-truths and whole lies, sprinkled with sufficient "facts" to make it salable. [iii] By October, 1963, six weeks before JFK's assassination, Robert F. Kennedy, under pressure from Hoover, approved the FBI wiretap of King for a 30 day period ending on November 21, 1963. His tenuous relationship with Hoover had, at that point in time, been seriously compromised by his need to solicit the FBI's help in protecting his brother JFK's own secrets regarding his involvement with a number of ladies who had been procured on his behalf by none other than Bobby Baker, all as choreographed by Lyndon B. Johnson. This required RFK to delicately "deal with" not just one "devil" but three, simultaneously: Hoover, Johnson and Baker. He had no choice but to approve those temporary wiretaps but he fully expected to review, and possibly end, that surveillance, at the end of the 30 days, but his brother's assassination ended his control over that process; there was no review until 1965 because Hoover ignored RFK's condition and the "King wiretapping went on and on,"[iv] to Lyndon Johnson's personal pleasure.
After JFK's assassination, RFK became ineffectual in his position, cut off from above by Johnson and from below by Hoover, both of whom liked to play the recordings of King's sexual trysts for their own amusement or at cocktail parties for others as well. LBJ played them for long time crony, a long-time Texas pal of Johnson's, then Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes, who described it in his memoir. There are numerous reports about how these recordings were delivered to President Johnson, who took great delight in listening to them, especially King's sexual exploits. One such account was a 2011 article in the Atlantic Monthly magazine, which stated: "He listened to the tapes that even had the noises of the bedsprings," Time correspondent Hugh Sidey reported in 1975. Johnson would say to anyone having nice things to say about MLK, "Goddammit, if you could only hear what that hypocritical preacher does sexually."[v] Lyndon Johnson's description of King was the same in 1967 as it had been three years earlier, despite how they had "collaborated" on the passage of the legislation in between. This is because Johnson used King to help accomplish his own personal goals in 1964-65, yet, despite Johnson's own legendary womanizing, he had the temerity to call Dr. King "hypocritical."
Robert Sherrill, the author of The Accidental President, writing contemporaneously in 1967, said that Bill Moyers "expressly approved" circulating within the executive branch a secret FBI report intended to discredit Dr. Martin Luther King. [vi] An entire section of this report was devoted to the details of King's personal life and sexuality preferences, according to a Senate Intelligence Committee report in 1976. Moyers admitted under questioning that he understood that the FBI reports dealt with personal information, that he never questioned the propriety of it, that he never considered it inappropriate, and that neither did anyone else in the White House. As the New York Times later reported, "Johnson found
gossip about other men's weaknesses a delicious hiatus from work."[vii] It is interesting that a decade later, Moyers admitted that some of the taping the FBI did on behalf of Johnson was excessive, but it took even
longer for him to admit that they were "constitutional violations."[viii] He has never been held to account for his own actions, nor was Johnson ever held to account for his abuse of illegal bugs and wiretapping, as eventually happened to Richard Nixon under much less egregious circumstances.
In the three years following the assassination, though King collaborated with Johnson initially in the passage of civil rights legislation, that stopped suddenly, after King's speech of April 4, 1967. at Riverside Church in New York City at which he came out strongly against the Vietnam War and Johnson's methods in creating the war. In his book Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Hampton Sides summarized the situation that King had found himself in six months before his assassination. By 1967, the thirty-eight-year-old King had been working almost non stop for twelve years, while getting little exercise and smoking and drinking in excess, he had become extremely stressed; he had been receiving death threats and his marriage was teetering toward failure. His outspoken criticisms of the Vietnam War caused Lyndon Johnson to turn against him completely: