A previously unpublished letter, penned by J. Edgar Hoover has recently been revealed and is shedding new light on the former F.B.I. Director's enmity towards civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
In the letter, the notoriously Machiavellian Hoover expresses a contempt for King, one that later filtered down through the bureau and culminated in targeted actions attempting to discredit King as a public voice.
The letter was discovered by Washington scholar James Swanson. Years ago Swanson purchased a copy of Hoover's 1938 book “Persons in Hiding.” Later Swanson discovered an envelope marked “PERSONAL” and “DO NOT MAIL,” buried in between its pages. In it, Swanson discovered the letter, written to William C. Sullivan, the FBI’s former head of domestic intelligence and the third ranking officer under Hoover.
The book was inscribed “To William Sullivan, Best wishes, J. Edgar Hoover” which lead Swanson to believe the copy once belonged to Sullivan himself.
Hoover's letter was sparked by the announcement that Dr. King would be receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. Hoover held a rare press conference with a group of woman journalists in Washington. He believed that King and the civil rights movement to be a dangerous threat to social order, and further, that King was being influenced by communist associates.
"I have always been reluctant about holding press conferences," Hoover wrote in his letter to Sullivan, "However, these women reporters have been most persistent to have a briefing on the work of the Bureau and there were a number of things that I wanted to also get off my chest at the same time."
During the press conference Hoover condemned King as a radical and labeled him “the most notorious liar in the country.”
The following day he wrote the letter to William Sullivan.
"I had no expectation that it would stir up as much publicity as it has," Hoover wrote, speaking of the press conference. Hoover received hundreds of telegrams but "there have only been two or three which have criticized me for what I had to say about Martin Luther King."
“I share your view in thinking that his exposure is long overdue. It is grand to know that I have the support and goodwill of my close associates in the Bureau.”
After the suspicions of communist ties the F.B.I. began wiretapping King at his home and office and began bugging his hotel rooms. Although they discovered no connection to any communist movement they learned of King's sexual misconduct. Shortly after Hoover's press conference and anonymous letter was sent to King along with a tape allegedly containing evidence that would discredit King publicly.
“Your ‘honorary degrees, your Nobel Prize (What a grim farce) . . . will not save you, You are done. There is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is . . ."
At the time King had strong suspicions the letter was the work of the F.B.I. William Sulivan later admitted his involvement in sending the letter, but denied writing it and claimed to have opposed to sending it.
"Maybe he is now beginning to get his just deserts," Hoover wrote ending his letter. "I cetainly hope so."
H/T - The Washington Post