Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most important and radical political activists of the 20th century. Not “civil rights figures.” Not “African American leaders.” Not “non-violent reformists.” When I say “radical political activist,” that is exactly what I mean. The scope of his vision for a better world was wide in breadth and deep in root. In his 13 short years of public activism, he (and his many allies) courageously addressed issues of race, class, materialism, war, moral culture, sex, and religion. The medicine Dr. King prescribed for each of these interrelated topics was bitter and centered around a “radical revolution of values" (video here).
On this blog, I’ve noted modern culture’s attempt to retroactively "speak for" and water down Dr. King’s truly radical politics several times. This impulse to memorialize and canonize Dr. King and his ideas is so strong, you might think we as a people had actually consummated his vision for a better America. Sadly, I suspect the true reason to be much more banal; that is, we memorialize because “it is easier to build monuments than to make a better world.”
Well. Today is once again Martin Luther King Jr. Day and I thought I’d use the occasion for a somewhat novel purpose. Instead of focusing on the richness of Dr. King’s activism, I’d like to share a singular example of how this nation’s federal government thanked him for his efforts at peaceful democratic change. The following is from the excellent website “Letters of Note.”
In November of 1964, fearful of his connection to the Communist Partythrough Stanley Levison, the FBI anonymously sent Martin Luther King the following threatening letter, along with a cassette that contained allegedly incriminating audio recordings of King with women in various hotel rooms — the fruits of a 9 month surveillance project headed by William C. Sullivan.
Unsurprisingly, King saw the strongly worded letter as an invitation for him to take his own life, as did an official investigation in 1976 which concluded that the letter “clearly implied that suicide would be a suitable course of action for Dr. King.”
Transcript follows, free of most redactions.
In view of your low grade… I will not dignify your name with either a Mr. or a Reverend or a Dr. And, your last name calls to mind only the type of King such as King Henry the VIII…
King, look into your heart. You know you are a complete fraud and a great liability to all of us Negroes. White people in this country have enough frauds of their own but I am sure they don’t have one at this time anywhere near your equal. You are no clergyman and you know it. I repeat you are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that. You could not believe in God… Clearly you don’t believe in any personal moral principles.
King, like all frauds your end is approaching. You could have been our greatest leader. You, even at an early age have turned out to be not a leader but a dissolute, abnormal moral imbecile. We will now have to depend on our older leaders like Wilkins, a man of character and thank God we have others like him. But you are done. Your “honorary” degrees, your Nobel Prize (what a grim farce) and other awards will not save you. King, I repeat you are done.
No person can overcome facts, not even a fraud like yourself… I repeat — no person can argue successfully against facts… Satan could not do more. What incredible evilness… King you are done.
The American public, the church organizations that have been helping — Protestant, Catholic and Jews will know you for what you are — an evil, abnormal beast. So will others who have backed you. You are done.
King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days in which to do it (this exact number has been selected for a specific reason, it has definite practical significance). You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.
Dr. King was not perfect, no man can be; but he was brave and righteous, which few even attempt. Let’s take this moment to remember not only his beautiful vision for the way-the-world-could-be, but also the wretched way the world-as-it-was thanked him for his efforts.