From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]

31 YR OLD MARTIN LUTHER KING ON MEET THE PRESS;jsessionid=5E026A4E02906F78F566F4ADA795045E

“In practicing Kingian nonviolence, we make a commitment to
unconditional love for all people without exceptions. We reject all
forms of hatred, even for our opponents. We respect the humanity of
everyone, especially our enemies. In fact, we don’t even like the word
“enemies.” We prefer the word “adversaries” because it has less
animosity and makes us think about the conflict on a higher level.”


“The Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI was a leftist
activist group operational during the early 1970s. Their only known
action was breaking into a two-man Media, Pennsylvania FBI office, and
making off with over 1000 classified documents. They then mailed these
documents anonymously to several American newspapers. Several news
outlets refused to publish the information, as it related to ongoing
operations and disclosure may have threatened the lives of agents or
informants. “The complete collection of political documents ripped-off
from the F.B.I. office in Media, Pa., March 8, 1971” was published for
the first time as the March, 1972 issue of WIN Magazine (“Peace and
freedom thru nonviolent action”), a journal associated with the War
Resisters League. The documents revealed the COINTELPRO operation, and
led to the cessation of this operation by the FBI. No member of the
group has ever been publicly identified, or apprehended, though noted
Yippie organizer Abbie Hoffman has been linked on several occasions
including a suggestion dropped by the character portraying his lawyer
in the 2000 film “Steal This Movie”.

Though highly under-emphasized, the theft resulted in the exposure of
some of the FBI’s most self-incriminating documents, including several
documents detailing the FBI’s use of postman, switchboard opperators,
etc., in order to spy on black college students and various non-
violent black activist groups. For more information on this subject


TITLE: “The complete collection of political documents ripped-off from
the F.B.I. office in Media, Pa., March 8, 1971”

OH ABBIE,0,2280342.story?coll=la-news-comment-opinions
A break-in to end all break-ins
In 1971, stolen FBI files exposed the government’s domestic spying program.
BY Allan M. Jalon  /  March 8, 2006

THIRTY-FIVE YEARS ago today, a group of anonymous activists broke
into the small, two-man office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
in Media, Pa., and stole more than 1,000 FBI documents that revealed
years of systematic wiretapping, infiltration and media manipulation
designed to suppress dissent.

The Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, as the group
called itself, forced its way in at night with a crowbar while much of
the country was watching the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight. When
agents arrived for work the next morning, they found the file cabinets
virtually emptied.

Within a few weeks, the documents began to show up mailed
anonymously in manila envelopes with no return address in the
newsrooms of major American newspapers. When the Washington Post
received copies, Atty. Gen. John N. Mitchell asked Executive Editor
Ben Bradlee not to publish them because disclosure, he said, could
“endanger the lives” of people involved in investigations on behalf of
the United States.

Nevertheless, the Post broke the first story on March 24, 1971,
after receiving an envelope with 14 FBI documents detailing how the
bureau had enlisted a local police chief, letter carriers and a
switchboard operator at Swarthmore College to spy on campus and black
activist groups in the Philadelphia area.

More documents went to other reporters Tom Wicker received copies
at his New York Times office; so did reporters at the Los Angeles
Times and to politicians including Sen. George McGovern of South
Dakota and Rep. Parren J. Mitchell of Maryland.

To this day, no individual has claimed responsibility for the
break-in. The FBI, after building up a six-year, 33,000-page file on
the case, couldn’t solve it. But it remains one of the most lastingly
consequential (although underemphasized) watersheds of political
awareness in recent American history, one that poses tough questions
even today for our national leaders who argue that fighting foreign
enemies requires the government to spy on its citizens. The break-in
is far less well known than Daniel Ellsberg’s leak of the Pentagon
Papers three months later, but in my opinion it deserves equal

Found among the Media documents was a new word, “COINTELPRO,”
short for the FBI’s “secret counterintelligence program,” created to
investigate and disrupt dissident political groups in the U.S. Under
these programs, beginning in 1956, the bureau worked to “enhance the
paranoia endemic in these circles,” as one COINTELPRO memo put it, “to
get the point across there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox.”

The Media documents along with further revelations about
COINTELPRO in the months and years that followed made it clear that
the bureau had gone beyond mere intelligence-gathering to discredit,
destabilize and demoralize groups many of them peaceful, legal civil
rights organizations and antiwar groups that the FBI and Director J.
Edgar Hoover found offensive or threatening.

For instance, agents sought to persuade Martin Luther King Jr. to
kill himself just before he received the Nobel Prize. They sent him a
composite tape made from bugs planted illegally in his hotel rooms
when he was entertaining women other than his wife and threatened to
make it public. “King, there is one thing left for you to do. You know
what it is,” FBI operatives wrote in their anonymous letter.

Under COINTELPRO, the bureau also targeted actress Jean Seberg for
having made a donation to the Black Panther Party. The fragile actress
ultimately committed suicide after a gossip nugget based on a FBI
wiretap was leaked to the L.A. Times and published. The item,
suggesting that the father of the baby she was carrying was a Black
Panther rather than her French writer-husband, turned out to be wrong.

The sheer reach of a completely politicized FBI was one of the
most frightening revelations of the Media documents. Underground
newspapers were targeted. Students (and their professors) were
targeted. Celebrities were targeted. The Communist Party of the
U.S.A., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Non-
Violent Organizing Committee, the Black Panther Party, the Women’s
Strike for Peace all were targeted. “Neutralize them in the same
manner they are trying to destroy and neutralize the U.S.,” one memo

Eventually, the COINTELPRO memos some from Media and some
unearthed later prompted hearings led by Rep. Don Edwards of
California and by Sen. Frank Church of Idaho on intelligence agency
abuses. In the mid-1970s, the wayward agency began finally to be
reined in.

It is tragic when people lose faith in their government to the
extent that they feel they must break laws to expose corruption. But a
war that had been started and sustained by lies had gone on for years.
And a government had betrayed its citizens, manipulating their fear to
strengthen its grip on power.

Today, again, many people worry that their government may be on
the road to subverting its own ideals. I hope that the commemoration
of those unknown activists being held today in Media, Pa., will serve
as a reminder that fighting for democracy abroad must remain more than
merely an excuse to weaken civil liberties at home.

The 1960s and COINTELPRO: In Defense of Paranoia
BY Daniel Brandt  /  July-September 1995

“”The Women’s Liberation Movement may be considered as subversive to
the New Left and revolutionary movements as they have proven to be a
divisive and factionalizing factor…. It could be well recommended as
a counterintelligence movement to weaken the revolutionary movement.”
This was from an August, 1969 report by the head of the San Francisco
FBI office.[4] Within several years, the Rockefeller and Ford
Foundations were pumping millions into women’s studies programs on

At the same time, the FBI’s Domestic Intelligence Division had 62,000
subversives under investigation. Much of this effort was organized
under COINTELPRO, or counterintelligence program. In 1956 COINTELPRO
began against the Communist Party USA, in 1964 “white hate groups”
were added, in 1967 “black nationalist-hate groups,” and in 1968 the
“New Left.”

The existence of COINTELPRO was first revealed when every document in
the Media, Pennsylvania office of the FBI was stolen by unknown
persons on March 8, 1971. Some sixty documents were then mailed to
selected publications, and others were sent directly to the people and
groups named. These documents broke down as follows: 30 percent were
manuals, routine forms, and similar procedural materials. Of the
remainder, 40 percent were political surveillance and other
investigation of political activity (2 were right-wing, 10 concerned
immigrants, and over 200 were on left or liberal groups), 25 percent
concerned bank robberies, 20 percent were murder, rape, and interstate
theft, 7 percent were draft resistance, another 7 percent were
military desertion, and 1 percent organized crime, mostly gambling.[5]

Further evidence concerning COINTELPRO came after reporter Carl Stern
from NBC, noticing a reference in the Media documents, filed an FOIA
request and received additional files more than two years later.
Additionally, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), a Trotskyite group
that was active in the anti-war movement, filed a suit in 1973 that
was still in discovery three years later. The documents received by
the SWP showed that specially-trained teams of agents burglarized
their offices at least 92 times from 1960-1966, yielding a total of
about 10,000 photographs of documents such as correspondence, records,
minutes, letters, and other materials. The burglaries were still going
on as late as 1975.[6]

When Lori Paton, 15, wrote a letter to the Socialist Labor Party in
1973 and inadvertently addressed it to the SWP, she was looking for
information for a high school project. Our fearless G-men nabbed this
letter through a mail cover and swung into high gear, opening a
“subversive activities” investigation on her. The FBI checked a credit
bureau and the local police for information on Paton and her parents,
and an agent interviewed her high school principal. “More
interviews … are in order for plenty of reasons,” instructed one
memo dated 16 September 1970, “chief of which are it will enhance the
paranoia endemic in these circles and will further serve to get the
point across that there is an FBI Agent behind every mailbox. In
addition, some will be overcome by the overwhelming personalities of
the contacting agent and volunteer to tell all — perhaps on a
continuing basis.”

The Black Panther Party wasn’t treated so kindly. A 1970 FBI memo
outlined a series of rather nasty steps that should be taken:

Xerox copies of true documents, documents subtly incorporating
false information, and entirely fabricated documents would be
periodically anonymously mailed to the residence of a key Panther
leader…. An attempt would be made to give the Panther recipient the
impression the documents were stolen from police files by a
disgruntled police employee sympathetic to the Panthers…. Alleged
police or FBI documents could be prepared pinpointing Panthers as
police or FBI informants; … outlining fictitious plans for police
raids or other counteractions; revealing misuse of Panther funds….
Effective implementation of this proposal logically could not help but
disrupt and confuse Panther activities.[7]

Such FBI tactics created the feud between the Eldridge Cleaver and
Huey Newton factions of the Black Panther Party, according to a high
bureau official. In Los Angeles, the FBI worked with the police
department to support Ron Karenga, the leader of a black nationalist
organization that was feuding with the Panthers. Two Panther activists
were killed in a shootout at UCLA in 1969, for which five Karenga
supporters were subsequently indicted, and three convicted. Louis
Tackwood, an LAPD agent-provocateur who went public in 1971, says that
the LAPD gave Karenga money, guns, narcotics, and encouragement.[8]

In Seattle, FBI agent Louis Harris recruited David Sannes in 1970, a
patriotic veteran who was willing to help them catch some bombers.
Sannes worked with explosives expert Jeffrey Paul Desmond and FBI
agent Bert Carter. Their instructions were to find people interested
in bombing. “For a few of the members it was a matter of many weeks of
persuasion to actually have them carry through with the bombing
projects,” said Sannes. When Carter made it clear that he planned to
have one bomber die in a booby-trapped explosion, Sannes dropped his
FBI work and went public. “My own knowledge is that the FBI along with
other Federal law enforcement agencies has been involved in a campaign
of bombing, arson and terrorism in order to create in the mass public
mind a connection between political dissidence of whatever stripe and
revolutionaries of whatever violent tendencies,” Sannes reported in an
interview on WBAI radio.[9]

The situation in Seattle is merely one of many examples of the FBI’s
campaign against the New Left. Two agents, W. Mark Felt [DEEP THROAT]
and Edward Miller, admitted to a grand jury that they had authorized
illegal break-ins and burglaries against friends and relatives of
Weather Underground fugitives. A 25-year FBI veteran, M. Wesley
Swearingen, claimed that the FBI routinely lied to Congress about the
number of break-ins and wiretaps: “I myself actually participated in
more than 238 while assigned to the Chicago office, [which] conducted
thousands of bag jobs.” Swearingen charged that agents had lied to a
Washington grand jury about the number, locations, and duration of
illegal practices in pursuit of the Weather Underground.[10] FBI
director William Webster disciplined only six of the 68 agents
referred to him by the Justice Department. Felt and Miller were
convicted in 1980, and a few months later were pardoned by President
Reagan. Today the FBI can still use these same techniques, simply by
mislabeling their targets as foreign agents or terrorists.

In 1971 Congress finally repealed the Internal Security Act of 1950,
which provided for custodial detention of citizens whose names were on
lists of “subversives” maintained by the FBI. Over the years these
lists were expanded from Communist Party members, to all members of
SDS and other “pro-Communist New Left-type groups,” and by 1970 even
included members of every “commune” where individuals reside in one
location and “share income and adhere to the philosophy of a Marxist-
Leninist-Maoist oriented violent revolution.” Despite the repeal, the
FBI simply changed the names of the Security Index and Reserve Index
to the “Administrative Index,” with the excuse that they were
preparing for possible future legislation. The FBI’s continuation of
these lists was authorized by attorney general John Mitchell.[11]

The FBI also waged a war against the underground press. As early as
1968 they assigned three informants to penetrate the Liberation News
Service (LNS), while nine others reported on it from the outside.
These reports were shared with the U.S. Army’s Counterintelligence
Branch, the Secret Service, the Internal Revenue Service, the Navy,
the Air Force, and the CIA. The FBI set up Pacific International News
Service in San Francisco and New York Press Service on the east coast.
When NYPS director Louis Salzberg blew his cover by appearing as a
government witness at the Chicago Seven trial, the FBI’s New York
office tried to swing this in their favor by preparing an anonymous
letter denouncing LNS as a government front as well. Other underground
newspapers were handled more gently by the FBI, by getting record
companies to pull ads from their pages.[12]

Other federal agencies were also active in the war against dissent. In
response to pressure from the Nixon White House, in 1969 the Internal
Revenue Service began investigating radicals. Former FBI agent Robert
N. Wall blew the whistle on this unit in 1972. He wrote about his
visit to the IRS to investigate a radical:

When I went to the IRS I found it had secretly set up a special
squad of men to investigate the tax records of “known militants and
activists.” I was sent to a locked, sound-proofed room in the basement
of the IRS headquarters in Washington, where I found a file on my
subject, among hundreds of others piled on a long table.[13]

The CIA was able to obtain IRS information under the table, through
IRS liaison personnel that handled the taxes for CIA proprietary
companies. When the CIA found out that Ramparts magazine planned to
expose their funding of the National Student Association, Richard Ober
met with top IRS officials Thomas Terry, Leon Green, and John Barber
on February 1, 1967. Ober recommended that Ramparts’ corporate returns
be examined, along with the personal returns of any financial
supporters of Ramparts. The CIA also obtained the personal returns of
Ramparts publisher Edward Keating.[14]

The CIA’s domestic operations were first exposed by Seymour Hersh in
the New York Times on December 22, 1974. Within two weeks President
Ford created the Rockefeller Commission to look into the matter, and
their report was issued the following June. It detailed the CIA’s mail
intercept program for mail to and from the Soviet Union, described
Operation CHAOS (the CIA’s domestic spying program that was headed by
Richard Ober), also described a separate domestic spying program run
by the CIA’s Office of Security called Project Resistance, and
mentioned an Office of Security program that gave seminars and
training on lock-picking and surveillance to a number of local police

The Rockefeller report stated that “during six years [1967-1972], the
Operation [CHAOS] compiled some 13,000 different files, including
files on 7,200 American citizens. The documents in these files and
related materials included the names of more than 300,000 persons and
organizations, which were entered into a computerized index.” This
compares to the CIA’s index of some 7 million names of all
nationalities maintained by the Directorate of Operations, an
estimated 115,000 of which are believed to be American citizens.[16]
But the numbers may be on the low side; CHAOS was tightly
compartmented within the CIA and free from periodic internal review.
For example, later reports of the number of state, local, and county
police departments assisted by the CIA were put at 44, far more than
the handful mentioned in the Rockefeller report.[17]

The Center for National Security Studies, a late-1970s liberal
watchdog group headed by Morton Halperin, obtained 450 documents that
describe the CIA’s Project Resistance. These documents show that the
purpose of this Security Office program was much more than an effort
to protect CIA recruiters on campus by collecting newspaper clippings,
as described in the Rockefeller report. The Security Office was
authorized for the first time to assist the recruiting division “in
any way possible,” and restrictions on contacting the FBI at local
levels were dropped. Contacts were also developed with campus security
officials, informants within the campus community, military
intelligence, and state and local police. Special attention was paid
to the underground press.[18]

In 1976 the Church Committee received summaries from the CIA of the
files of 400 American journalists who had being tasked by the CIA to
collect intelligence abroad over the past 25 years. These included
correspondents for the New York Times, CBS News, Time magazine, and
many others.[19] As sensitive as this issue was, it didn’t involve
domestic operations (which are a violation of the CIA’s charter),
except to the extent that planted stories would sometimes “blow back”
as bona fide news for domestic consumption.

One case in particular, however, suggests that the CIA was busy
sabotaging the underground press as well. Sal Ferrera was recruited by
the CIA sometime around 1970. He worked with the Quicksilver Times in
Washington DC, and covered numerous demonstrations for the College
Press Service. (Seed money from the CIA helped establish CPS in the
early 1960s, although most staffers did not know this.) Ferrera even
worked with a debugging outfit in Washington, checking telephones of
movement groups for taps.

When CPS sent Ferrera to Paris to report on the Vietnamese peace
negotiations, he ended up befriending ex-CIA officer Philip Agee, who
was writing his memoirs. Ferrera was exposed as a CIA agent in 1975
with the publication of Agee’s “Inside the Company: CIA Diary.” This
bestseller featured the typewriter Ferrera gave Agee: in the cover
photograph, the padding in the top of the typewriter case is peeled
back to reveal a homing transmitter. That same year, Ferrera returned
to the U.S. and legally changed his name.[20]

Not to be outdone, U.S. military intelligence frequently used media
cover to collect information during demonstrations. The U.S. Army’s
“Midwest Audiovisual News” scooped up the only TV interview with Abbie
Hoffman during the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. Their
Counter- intelligence Analysis Branch (CIAB) compiled organizational
files, personality files, mug books, and “black lists,” resulting in
more than 117,000 documents. These were computer-indexed under a
series of descriptive categories, which allowed access to a microfilm
reel and frame at the push of a button.[21]

There were other filing systems in other locations, maintained by
other elements of the military intelligence bureaucracy. These were
fed partly by overlapping data, as well as by other collection
systems. The U.S. Intelligence Command (USAINTC), for example, had a
network of 1500 agents stationed in over 300 posts scattered
throughout the country. Some of these posts were stocked with
communications equipment, tape recorders, cameras, lock-picking kits,
lie detectors, and interview rooms with two- way mirrors. Agents were
even given kits to forge identification for cover purposes. Former
army intelligence captain Christopher Pyle blew the whistle on
military surveillance in 1970, in the January and July issues of
Washington Monthly. This led to hearings in 1971 by Senator Sam
Ervin’s Constitutional Rights Subcommittee, at which Pyle, CIAB
analyst Ralph Stein, and operative Richard Stahl testified.[22]

Some of the military’s effort reflected their fondness for the
“operations center” seen in movies, with direct lines to local police
departments, teletype machines to field intelligence units, situation
maps, closed-circuit television, and secure radio links. One 180-man
command center was created in 1968 after the riots that followed the
assassination of Martin Luther King; by 1969 it was housed in a $2.7
million basement war room in the Pentagon. Nothing was too
insignificant for this war room’s computer: one printout announced an
“anti-war demo” at West Point, where Vassar “girl students will offer
sex to cadets who sign an anti-war petition.” Apart from the coverage
of demonstrations and similar events, the primary target of military
intelligence was the nation’s university and college campuses.[23]

The 117-year-old Posse Comitatus Act, which the current anti-
terrorism legislation will amend, sharply curtails the rights of the
military to get involved in domestic law enforcement. Nevertheless, in
the late sixties the military was working closely with local and state
police, as well as National Guard units, to coordinate scenarios for
the implementation of martial law. The Ervin subcommittee came across
a master plan called “Garden Plot,” which was too unspecific to raise
Ervin’s eyebrows. Several years later a freelance journalist uncovered
documents describing a sub-plan of Garden Plot. It went by the name of
“Cable Splicer,” and involved California, Oregon, Washington and
Arizona, under the command of the Sixth Army.

Cable Splicer was developed in a series of California meetings from
1968 to 1972, involving Sixth Army, Pentagon, and National Guard
generals, police chiefs and sheriffs, military intelligence officers,
defense contractors, and executives from the telephone company and
utility companies. One meeting was kicked off by Governor Ronald

You know, there are people in the state who, if they could see
this gathering right now and my presence here, would decide that their
worst fears and convictions had been realized — I was planning a
military takeover.

The participants played war games using scenarios that began with
racial, student, or labor unrest, and ended with the Army being called
in to bail out the National Guard, usually by sweeping the area to
confiscate private weapons and round up likely troublemakers. These
games were conducted in secrecy, with military personnel dressed in
civvies, and using non-military transportation. Although the documents
on Cable Splicer covered only four Western states, Brig. Gen. J. L.
Jelinek, senior Army officer in the Pentagon’s National Guard Bureau,
knew of “no state that didn’t have some form of this [civil
disturbance control] exercise within the last year” under different
code names.[24]

Games are one thing, while actual offensive operations are another.
The Ervin subcommittee reported that military intelligence groups
conducted offensive operations against anti-war and student groups,
but the Pentagon refused to declassify the relevant records.
Presumably they never reached the intensity of the FBI’s COINTELPRO
operations.[25] The situation with respect to police departments was a
different matter. Particularly in Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia
and Los Angeles, as well as in some other cities, the police “Red
Squads” exceeded the zeal of the FBI.

Despite the high incidence of civil unrest between 1963 and 1968,
violence claimed no more than 220 lives and the victims were not the
objects of protest but the protesters themselves: 20 civil rights
workers and most of the rest ghetto-dwellers. During this period the
civil strife death rate was 1.1 per million in this country, compared
to a European rate of 2.4 per million.[29] Nevertheless, many federal,
state, and local agencies were willing to violate our civil rights,
while others collected surveillance information with the expectation
that it would be useful later, perhaps under martial law conditions.
This suggests that our Constitution is much more fragile than most
people assume.


BY Michael Eric Dyson  /  April. 6, 2008
April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Death
and How It Changed America [excerpt]

“You cannot hear the name Martin Luther King, Jr. and not think of
death. You might hear the words “I have a dream,” but they will
doubtlessly only serve to underscore an image of a simple motel
balcony, a large man made small, a pool of blood.

For as famous as he may have been in life, it is — and was — death
that ultimately defined him. Born into a culture whose main solace was
Christianity’s Promised Land awaiting them after the suffering of this
world, King took on the power of his race’s presumed destiny and found
in himself the defiance necessary to spark change.

He ate, drank, and slept death. He danced with it, he preached it, he
feared it, and he stared it down. He looked for ways to lay it aside,
this burden of his own mortality, but ultimately knew that his
unwavering insistence on a nonviolent end to the mistreatment of his
people could only end violently …

From the time he began to speak out, King was haunted by death —
mugged by the promise of destruction for seeking an end to black
indignity and the beginning of equality with whites. After a few years
spent up North acquiring his education, King chose to return to where
he would be needed most in the coming years — the white-hot center of
the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement and Montgomery, Alabama.

At twenty-six he took on the responsibilities of a Baptist pulpit,
joining forces with the local NAACP, and dug in for the year-long bus
boycott created to end the Jim Crow law of racial segregation in
public transportation. During this conflict his house was bombed — his
wife Coretta and their ten-week-old daughter Yolanda were home, but
escaped injury. It was the first time King would be tested with
violence aimed at his life, but far from the last. Later in the
boycott a shotgun blast was fired into King’s home. King did not
capitulate, but instead he emerged from the ashes of these attempts as
the true Phoenix of the newly minted movement. Once again, his
mortality challenged, he accepted his calling without hesitation.

A couple of years after the boycott ended, King was in Harlem at
Blumstein’s department store signing Stride Toward Freedom, his
account of the movement’s success. From out of nowhere, a clearly
disturbed black woman, Izola Ware Curry, sunk a letter opener into his
chest after asking if he was Martin Luther King. Though considered an
act of instability, this attack was still colored by Curry’s
irrational hatred of what King and the NAACP were trying to do, and by
her own fear of being killed because of his constant stirring of the

Even so, it was one of the rare instances of black public hate
directed at King, the kind that would later be famously associated
with his colleague and competitor Malcolm X. As he took flight to snip
the bullying wings of Jim Crow, King ruffled the feathers of white
racists who grew more determined to bring him down. There was striking
physical intimidation of King. In a show of naked aggression, two
white cops attempted to block his entry into a Montgomery courtroom
for the trial of a man who had attacked his comrade Ralph Abernathy.
Despite a warning from the cops, King poked his head inside the
courtroom looking for his lawyer to help him get inside. His actions
ignited their rage. The policemen twisted his arm behind his back and
manhandled him into jail. King said the cops “tried to break my arm;
they grabbed my collar and tried to choke me, and when they got me to
the cell, they kicked me in.” A photographer happened by to capture
the scene. The shot of King — dressed in a natty tan suit, stylish
gold wristwatch and a trendy snap-brim fedora — wincing as he is
banished to confinement is an iconic civil rights image.

As King addressed the 1962 convention of his organization, the
Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a two-hundred-pound
young white man rushed the stage and landed a brutal blow on his left
cheek. The crowd reacted in hushed disbelief. The diminutive King
never flinched or retreated, even as the young brute delivered several
more blows, first to the side of his face as he stood behind King, and
then two blows to his back. King gently spoke to his attacker as he
continued to pummel his body. He knocked King backward as the orator
dropped his hands — legendary activist Septima Clark, in attendance
that day, said King let down his hands “like a newborn baby” — and
faced his assailant head on.

Finally, SCLC staff leader Wyatt Tee Walker and others intervened as
King pleaded, “Don’t touch him! Don’t touch him. We have to pray for
him.” King quietly assured the young man he wouldn’t be harmed. The
leader and his aides retreated to a private office to talk with his
assailant, who was, King told the audience when he returned, a member
of the American Nazi Party. As King held an ice-filled handkerchief to
his jaw, he informed the crowd he wouldn’t press charges. Most in
attendance were amazed at King’s calm as violence flashed. Obviously
nonviolence was more than a method and a creed; it answered assault
with acts of steadfast courage.”

Local followers recall Martin Luther King Jr. as complex man
from The Orange County Register  /  April. 4, 2008

“If America does not use her vast resources of wealth to end poverty,
to make it possible for all of God’s children to have the basic
necessities of life, she too will go to Hell….”

The incendiary speech of Barak Obama’s controversial former pastor,
the Rev. Jeremiah Wright? Hardly. These words were spoken with great
fervor by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., American hero, not long
before his death. Forty years ago this week – April 4, 1968 – King was
staying in Room 306 of the homely Lorraine Motel in downtown Memphis.
According to historical accounts he was working on a speech called,
“Why America May Go to Hell.”

It was part of a pattern. In the last years of his life, the tone of
King’s rhetoric was more biting, and anguished than his earlier
speeches. And though steadfastly non-violent, King, at the end of his
life, was often highly critical of the United States. Today, at the
anniversary of King’s assassination, some local spiritual leaders see
King’s more strident period as an integral, if overlooked, part of his
legacy. “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money
on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching
spiritual death.” Martin Luther King Jr., in his 1967 book, “Where Do
We Go from Here: Chaos or Community”

In King’s mind, his commitment to civil rights – which won him the
1964 Nobel Peace Prize, the ear of the American president, and the
devotion of millions – naturally led to a vehement opposition to the
Vietnam War, and demands that America turn her resources instead to
wiping out poverty. “What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an
integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a
hamburger?” King asked a group of Memphis sanitation workers just two
weeks before his death. King wanted more than a colorblind society,
the thing for which he is well-remembered today. King wanted what he
often termed “a just society.”

Historical accounts suggest King had a lot on his mind 40 years ago. A
march he’d led in Memphis days before his death, in support of
striking sanitation workers, had devolved into rioting – something
that so disturbed King that he insisted on a second march, on April 8,
vowing that violence would not prevail. But King’s message of
nonviolence was a harder sell in 1968 than it had been earlier in the
decade. Vietnam was raging and numerous other leaders, of all races,
were calling for more active means to end the war and push social
change. And King himself was becoming a harder sell. His painfully
sharp criticisms of American policy were ostracizing him from the
circles of power that he had so recently joined.

“It is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive
starvation wages,” King said two weeks before his death.”… I can hear
the God of the universe saying… ‘The children of my sons and daughters
were in need of economic security, and you didn’t provide for them. So
you cannot enter the kingdom of greatness’.”

King’s oratory in these last years alienated many, including President
Lyndon B. Johnson, who was escalating America’s military involvement
in Vietnam. Some critics said King was embracing the bugaboo of the
day, communism. Rev. Mark Whitlock, pastor of Christ Our Redeemer AME
Church in Irvine, said King’s words in the last years of his life were
received much as the oratory of Obama’s former pastor, Rev. Wright,
has been received today.

“King wins the Nobel, pushes the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights
act, he’s considered (an) American hero,” Whitlock said. “And then
here comes the Vietnam War, King saying America is the most violent
nation and will pay for what it has done. He’s uninvited by the
president. Pushed aside. “For me, he was the Rev. Wright of that day,”
Whitlock added. “Wright’s words were highly emotional, and had a lot
of toxicity, but they’re in line with the Old Testament prophets like
Jeremiah and Isaiah, and they certainly were in line with Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr.”

King said in the weeks before his death that he agonized over
criticizing his country, especially at a time of war, but that he had
to speak out, to goad it toward its great ideals, and great promise.
“America …. gave the black man a bad check that’s been bouncing all
around,” King said in March, 1968. “… You are even unjustly spending
$500,000 to kill a single Viet Cong soldier, while you spend only $53
a year per person for everybody categorized as poverty-stricken.’
Instead of spending $35 billion every year to fight an unjust, ill-
considered war in Vietnam and $20 billion to put a man on the moon, we
need to put God’s children on their own two feet.”

King was preparing a speech in the same vein 40 years ago when he
broke away from his writing to have dinner with friends. He stepped
out of his room and onto the second floor landing which ran the length
of the Lorraine Motel. His driver admonished him to get a coat because
the night would be chilly; King agreed, according to historical
accounts. At 6:01 p.m. witnesses heard a noise, like a car backfiring
or a firecracker exploding. King collapsed, blood gushing from his
face. A rifle bullet had pierced his jaw, tore through his neck and
severed his spinal cord. He was pronounced dead less than an hour

James Earl Ray, a racist with a rap sheet, was convicted of the
murder. Conspiracy theorists still whisper about possible government
involvement, though no credible study has produced such evidence. Back
in 1965 – when Bernard P. King, now rabbi emeritus with Congregation
Shir Ha-Ma’alot in Irvine, marched with King and thousands of others
into Montgomery, Ala. – few could imagine that someday King would be
honored with a national holiday.

Still, King the rabbi doesn’t see much parallel between Martin Luther
King Jr. and Obama’s former pastor, Wright. “I think Dr. King was head
and shoulders above most of the leaders of his time. He was caught
between Malcolm X and the black power movement, accused of being a
communist. And yet he maintained his integrity, and constantly strove
to have nonviolent protest,” Rabbi King said. “Dr. King really tried
to bring people together. Maybe that’s not fashionable anymore.”

The War Over King’s Legacy
BY Vern E. Smith and Jon Meacham

On the eve of his murder, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream was turning
dark. Worried about poverty and Vietnam, he was growing more radical–
and that, his family says, is why he was killed. Was the real King a
saint, a subversive–or both?

The sun was about to set. On Thursday, April 4, 1968, Martin Luther
King Jr. had retreated to room 306 of the Lorraine Motel, worrying
about a sanitation strike in Memphis and working on his sermon for
Sunday. Its title: “Why America May Go to Hell.” For King, whose focus
had shifted from civil rights to antiwar agitation and populist
economics, the Dream was turning dark. He had been depressed, sleeping
little and suffering from migraines. In Washington, his plans for a
massive Poor People’s Campaign were in disarray. In Memphis, King’s
first march with striking garbage men had degenerated into riot when
young black radicals–not, as in the glory days, angry state troopers–
broke King’s nonviolent ranks. By 5 p.m. he was hungry and looked
forward to a soul-food supper. Always fastidious-a prince of the
church–King shaved, splashed on cologne and stepped onto the balcony.
He paused; a .30-06 rifle shot slammed King back against the wall, his
arms stretched out to his sides as if he were being crucified.

The Passion was complete. As he lay dying, the popular beatification
was already underway: Martin Luther King Jr., general and martyr to
the greatest moral crusade on the nation’s racial battlefield. For
most Americans the story seems so straightforward. He was a prophet,
our own Gandhi, who led the nation out of the darkness of Jim Crow.
His Promised Land was the one he conjured on the steps of the Lincoln
Memorial in 1963, a place where his “four little children… will not
be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their

Now, 30 years after his assassination, that legend is under fresh
assault–from King’s own family and many of his aging lieutenants. His
widow, Coretta, and his heirs are on the front lines of a quiet but
pitched battle over the manner of his death and the meaning of his
life. They believe James Earl Ray, King’s convicted assassin, is
innocent and that history has forgotten the real Martin Luther King.
To his family, King was murdered because he was no longer the King of
the March on Washington, simply asking for the whites only signs to
come down. He had grown radical: the King of 1968 was trying to build
an interracial coalition to end the war in Vietnam and force major
economic reforms–starting with guaranteed annual incomes for all.
They charge that the government, probably with Lyndon Johnson’s
knowledge, feared King might topple the “power structure” and had him
assassinated. “The economic movement was why he was killed, frankly,”
Martin Luther King III told NEWSWEEK. “That was frightening to the
powers that be.” They allege there were political reasons, too. “RFK
was considering him as a vice presidential candidate,” says Dexter,
King’s third child. “It’s not widely known or discussed, [but]
obviously those watching him knew of it. They [Kennedy and King] were
both considered powerful and influential in terms of bringing together
a multiracial coalition.”

So who was the real Martin Luther King Jr.–the integrationist
preacher of the summer of 1963 or the leftist activist of the spring
of 1968? The question is not just academic.  Its competing answers
shed light on enduring–and urgent–tensions between white and black
America over race, class and conspiracy. Most whites want King to be a
warm civic memory, an example of the triumph of good over evil. For
many African-Americans, however, the sanitizing of King’s legacy, and
suspicions about a plot to kill him, are yet another example of how
larger forces–including the government that so long enslaved them-
hijack their history and conspire against them. In a strange way, the
war over King’s legacy is a sepia-toned O.J. trial, and what you
believe depends on who you are.

The Kings, a family still struggling to find its footing personally
and politically, are understandably attracted to the grander theories
about King’s life and death. A government conspiracy to kill a
revolutionary on the rise is more commensurate with the greatness of
the target than a hater hitting a leader who may have been on the cool
side of the mountain. The truth, as always, is more complicated than
legend. People who were around Robert Kennedy say it is highly
unlikely that there was serious consideration of an RFK-King ticket.
“I never heard Kennedy talk about any vice presidential
possibilities,” says historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., a Kennedy aide.
And though there was almost certainly some kind of small-time plot to
kill King, 30 years of speculation and investigation has produced no
convincing proof that James Earl Ray was part of a government-led

The real King was in fact both radical and pragmatist, prophet and
pol. He understood that the clarity of Birmingham and Selma was gone
forever, and sensed the tricky racial and political terrain ahead. He
knew the country was embarking on a long twilight struggle against
poverty and violence–necessarily more diffuse, and more arduous, than
the fight against Jim Crow. Jealousies among reformers, always high,
would grow even worse; once the target shifted to poverty, it would be
tough to replicate the drama that had led to the Civil Rights and
Voting Rights Acts in 1964 and ’65. “We’ve got some difficult days
ahead,” he preached the night before he died.

King was an unlikely martyr to begin with. On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks
declined to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery bus.
King was not quite 27; Coretta had just given birth to their first
child, Yolanda. E. D. Nixon, another Montgomery pastor, wanted to host
a boycott meeting at King’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church–not because
of King but because the church was closest to downtown. When the
session ran long, a frustrated minister got up to leave, whispering to
King, “This is going to fizzle out. I’m going.” King replied, “I would
like to go, too, but it’s in my church.”

He took up the burden, however, and his greatness emerged. He led
waves of courageous ordinary people on the streets of the South, from
the bus boycott to the Freedom Rides. Behind his public dignity, King
was roiled by contradictions and self-doubts. He wasn’t interested in
money, yet favored silk suits; he summoned a nation to moral
reckoning, yet had a weakness for women. He made powerful enemies: J.
Edgar Hoover obsessed over King. The FBI, worried that he was under
communist influence, wiretapped and harassed the preacher from 1962
until his death.

Hoover may have been overestimating his foe, particularly after 1965.
On the streets, the black-power movement thought King’s philosophy of
nonviolence was out of date. Within the system King fared little
better. “The years before ’68 were a time when people in Detroit would
call us to march for civil rights–come to Chicago, come to L.A.,”
Jesse Jackson says. “But by the ’70s, you had mayors who were doing
the work every day.” King felt this chill wind in Cleveland, when he
campaigned for Carl Stokes, the city’s first successful black mayoral
candidate. The night Stokes won, King waited in a hotel room for the
invitation to join the celebrations. The call never came.

King took the change in climate hard. He told his congregation that
“life is a continual story of shattered dreams.” “Dr. King kept
saying,” John Lewis recalls, ” ‘Where do we go? How do we get there?’
” According to David J. Garrow’s Pulitzer Prize-winning King
biography, “Bearing the Cross,” he had found one answer while reading
Ramparts magazine at lunch one day in 1967. Coming across photos of
napalmed Vietnamese kids, King pushed away his plate of food: “Nothing
will ever taste any good for me until I do everything I can to end
that war.”

Look at this from the eyes of King’s family. He is attacking the war
and poverty. He is planning to “dislocate” daily life in the capital
by bringing the nation’s impoverished to camp out in Washington. “He
was about to wreck this country,” says Hosea Williams, “and they
realized they couldn’t stop him, and they killed him.” But it did not
seem that way to Williams–or to King–in real time. The Poor People’s
Campaign was having so much trouble turning out marchers that one
organizer, James Gibson, wrote Williams a terse memo just two weeks
before King was to die. “If this is to be a progress report,” Gibson
told Williams, “I can stop now; there has been none!” The march was to
be a model for multiethnic protest–a forerunner to the Rainbow
Coalition. The early returns–and King knew this–were not good. The
Southern Christian Leadership Conference was riven as the calculus
changed. “I do not think I am at the point where a Mexican can sit in
and call strategy on a Steering Committee,” one SCLC aide said.

What would have become of King? His lieutenants do not believe he
could have kept up the emotional and physical pace of the previous 13
years. They doubt he would have run for office despite speculation
about RFK or a presidential bid with Benjamin Spock. Nor do they think
he would have pulled a Gandhi and gone to live with the poor. (“Martin
would give you anything, but he liked nice things,” says one King
hand. “He would not have put on sackcloth.”)

A more likely fate: pastoring Ebenezer Baptist Church and using his
Nobel platform to speak out–on war and peace, the inner cities,
apartheid. King would have stood by liberalism: conservatives who use
his words to fight affirmative action are almost certainly wrong. “At
the end of his life,” says Julian Bond, “King was saying that a nation
that has done something to the Negro for hundreds of years must now do
something for him.” Had he lived, King might have been the only man
with the standing to frame the issue of the ghettos in moral terms. On
the other hand, he might have become a man out of time, frustrated by
preaching about poverty to a prosperous country.

The fight over King’s legacy resonates beyond the small circles of
family and historians. To the Malcolm X-saturated hip-hop generation,
“by any means necessary” is a better rap beat than “I have a dream.”
“For kids outside the system, King has no relevancy,” says Andre
Green, a freshman at Simon’s Rock College in Massachusetts. “But for
the upwardly mobile, assimilated black youth, King is a hero because
he opened the doors.” That is true of older African-Americans as well,
though there is a rethinking of integration, too. Some black mayors
now oppose busing even if it means largely all-African-American

On the last Saturday of his life, sitting in his study at Ebenezer,
King fretted and contemplated a fast–a genuine sacrifice for a man
who joked about how his collars were growing tighter. He mused about
getting out of the full-time movement, maybe becoming president of
Morehouse College. Then his spirits started to rise. “He preached
himself out of the gloom,” says Jackson. “We must turn a minus into a
plus,” King said, “a stumbling block into a steppingstone–we must go
on anyhow.” Three decades later, he would want all of us to do the