As I spend this weekend reflecting on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I am processing the experiences I've had thus far as I participate in the many events, parades, banquets and such that celebrate his life. Just today I was at the California African American Museum for a day of cultural expressions including a series of awesome short films, compelling photo exhibits and listening to reflections and observations from children (BIG PROPS to 68th Street Elementary, you guys are the BOMB!!!) community activists and local politicians.
And after all the stuff that I've seen, it's hard to believe that back in the day, Dr. King was considered a threat to national security - almost parallel to the types of threats we are told about today in the so-called war against terrorism.
In 1962, Dr. King was placed on the FBI's Reserve Index, Section A, one step below the list of individuals targeted for "preventative detainment" in special secret prisons in the event of a national emergency. Declassified memos prepared by FBI counterintelligence specialist Charles Brennan at the request of his boss COINTELPRO Chief William C. Sullivan (and outlined in the book, "the COINTELPRO PAPERS written by Ward Churchill & Jim VanderWall and published by South End Press Classics), asserts in an 11-page document that "civil rights agitation represented a clear threat to the established order of the US and King is growing in stature daily as the leader among leaders of the Negro Movement. So goes Martin Luther King, Jr., also so goes the Negro Movement in the United States."
Sullivan's assessment runs right alongside Brennan's as he issued a memo shortly after King's "I Have a Dream Speech". "We must mark King now, if we have not before, as the most dangerous Negro in the future of this nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro and national security. It may be unrealistic to limit our actions against King to legalistic proofs that would stand up in court or before Congressional Committees"
This meant the FBI would go on to promote propaganda meant to discredit Dr. King. Propaganda that promoted his supposed communist influences, sexual proclivities and harassment by the IRS. When it was announced in 1964, that Dr. King would receive the Nobel Peace Prize, the FBI overwhelmingly increased efforts to discredit him. According to the COINTELPRO PAPERS, "Two days after the announcement, William Sullivan caused a composite audio tape to be produced, supposedly containing "highlights" from tap's of King's phones, and bugs placed in his various hotel rooms over the preceding two years. The result, prepared by FBI audio technician John Matter, purported to demonstrate the civil rights leader had engaged in a series of orgiastic trysts with prostitutes and thus, according to declassified memos, "the depth of his sexual perversion and depravity". The finished tape was packaged along with the accompanying anonymous letter (prepared on unwatermarked paper by Bureau Internal Security Supervisor Seymore F. Phillips on Sullivan's instruction), informing King that the audio material would be released to the media unless he committed suicide prior to the bestowal of the Nobel Peace Prize."
"Suillivan then instructed veteran COINTELPRO operative Lish Whitson to fly to Miami with the package; once there, Whitson was instructed to address the parcel and mail it to the intended victim (The instructions by Sullivan to WHitson and others are summarized in a memorandum from a member of the Internal Security Section names Jones to FBI Associate Director Cartha D. DeLoach on December 1, 1964, captioned simply "Martin Luther King, Jr." For further information, see Lardner, George, Jr., "FBI Bugging and Blackmail of King bared, Washington Post, November 19, 1975. Also see Horock, Nicholas M., "Ex-officials say FBI harassed Dr. King to stop his Criticism, New York Times March 9, 1978)"
When Dr. King failed to comply with Sullivan's anonymous directive that he kill himself, FBI Associate DIrector Deloach attempted to follow through with the threat to make the contents of the doctored tape public:
(Again, from declassified memos):
"The Bureau Crime Records Division, headed by DeLoach, intiated a major campaign to let newsmen know just what the Bureau claimed to have on King. DeLoach personally offered a copy of the King surveillance transcript to Newsweek Washington Bureau Chief Benjamin Bradlee. Bradlee refused it, and mentioned the approach to a Newsday Colleague Jay Iselin".
In the end, the FBI could find no takers of the story and found their plot null and void. Additionally, a planned investigation of electronic surveillance by government agencies was announced by Senator Edward Long (D-Missouri), a fact that caused J. Edgar Hoover to order the rapid dismantling of the electronic surveillance operation against King and the SCLC. However, the FBI's counterintelligence opreations against King continued right up to the moment of King's death by sniper on the Balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.
And surely, as once again declassified memos demonstrate that the FBI's operations continued against a few of King's projects even after his assasination. (The Poor People's Campaign) By 1969, FBI's efforts to "expose" Dr. King continued with gusto even though Dr. King had been dead and buried for a year. The FBI also furnished information and propaganda used by conservatives to attack King's memory and tried to block efforts to honor the esteemed civil rights leader.
Even as we celebrate the message of nonviolence, peace and hope in America as set forth by Dr. Martin Luther King, I cannot help but think that now, as then, the government seeks to jeopardize the whole system of freedom of expression which is the cornerstone of our great nation. Are we now and have we always been a police state? Who of those that the government now considers a threat to national security will 40 years from now be a revered national icon? Does the government apologize?
We trust the government (or do we??), but are they doing the right thing? If thier record against Dr. King is an indicator, then I say, we must start asking questions now. Even now, thier surveillance tactics are being argued and justified on Capitol Hill. George Dubya, like his dad before him is hell bent on amending our rights so that the government has more and more power to listen, view and otherwise gain surveillance against citizens of the US. We fall for it becuase we believe in the wat against terrorism. But is it right or are we dismantling the basic freedoms that this country was founded upon? History shows a different view doesn't it?
As the lady says, The Struggle Continues, But Always, To God Be the Glory!!!!!!