Skip to main content

View Diary: J. Edgar Hoover's authorized assaults on Martin Luther King Jr. should never be forgotten (209 comments)

Comment Preferences

  •  "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." (29+ / 0-)
    One of the actions the Church Committee discovered in its mid'70s investigation was that the FBI had gone so far as to try to blackmail King into committing suicide by releasing its wiretaps of his telephone conversations.

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013

    by annieli on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 09:36:34 AM PST

    •  And one of the sweetest ironies of the taps.... (50+ / 0-)

      was that they actually created a detailed chronicle of Hoover and his mendacity.

      I have noted in other posts that Taylor Branch, who wrote the incredible three-volume bio of King (and I strongly recommend that if you have not read it you do so, despite the size of it) obviously made heavy use of the content of those taps in his writing.

      With them you have a much clearer understanding, not only of what Hoover was doing, but what King was doing, who he was meeting, and what they were saying to each other.  Without that detail we would never fully appreciate how much we owe to King for guiding the African American community away from blind rage and toward non-violent resistance and protest to achieve the ultimate breakthroughs in civil rights.

      They also document just how nasty Hoover was:  He was able to arrange wiretaps at the drop of a hat and usually with the often eager cooperation of local police, politicians and hotel operators.   He would often take excerpts of what his agents had gathered and send them off to friends in Congress, and the press with a hand-written note...."I thought you would be interested in this."

      And he repeatedly did likewise with notes to Presidents both to try and encourage their support and to subtly remind them that he had eyes and ears everywhere.

      Read the MLK biography AND Robert Caro's superb multi-volume opus on LBJ and you come to realize that had Kennedy not been slain, it is much more likely that true civil rights progress would not have happened on his watch.

      Only LBJ, as a southerner and a master of the legislative process, was in position and had the ability to drive civil rights bills through the long-standing obstructions of southern control of Congress.  And for all we appreciate in Kennedy, he was never as intensely committed to driving forward on the issue as LBJ turned out to can sense in Branch's book how often Kennedy tried to avoid King and avoid being seen as too close to him because of electoral politics and his dealings with the conservative wing of Congress which were key to his own legislative agenda.

      That Hoover is so discredited today is due, in no insignificant part to the fact that his own wiretaps wound up documenting what he had done.  How sweet to know that today.

      Free markets would be a great idea, if markets were actually free.

      by dweb8231 on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 09:57:32 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  people underappreciate LBJ (28+ / 0-)

        Me, I think he was a flawed Hero.

        Had he stayed out of Vietnam, like his instincts
        told him to, he could have done 10 years and built
        the Great Society.

        Subway systems, Head Start, Keep America Beautiful,
        Civil rights, voting rights.

        Such a pity, he didn't tell his cabinet of kennedy boykin
        to shove off.

        •  Agree Great Society was, well, Great (13+ / 0-)

          But I find it curious how some people are saying JFK wanted to pull out of Vietnam. Now you seem to be saying LBJ didn't want to be there either, but it was JFK's boykin who kept him stuck there.

          Sorry. Both JFK and LBJ were grown men and, I have heard it rumored, had some individual authority by which they could have influenced US foreign policy. But both of them should be forgiven the mass murder of Vietnam?

          It IS tragic that LBJ, the man responsible for launching the biggest expansion of progressive social programs since FDR, should have also been willing to engage in mass murder. Yes, he was ensnared in a political system which had costs he would have had to pay if he had looked "weak on communism." But look at how he left office. I remember, on the evening news, hearing him announce how he "will not seek, nor will I accept the nomination of my party" for re-election. As a 15-year-old kid, I was jubilant. My dad told me to shut up.

          So he ended up paying the price, but not withdrawing, feeling broken and frustrated that 15 year olds all across the country hated him for the war instead of liking him for the Great Society. Now that I am older and more entangled in Democratic Party relationships, and confronted with the dismantling of both the Great Society and parts of the New Deal, I can appreciate the tragedy of LBJ better. But that 15 year-old kid was right to be glad. That war WAS mass murder and criminal.

          I don't just blame LBJ. I blame much of the Democratic Party of the time, especially that weaselly creature known as a "cold war liberal." To this day, I do not refer to myself as a "liberal."

          "... if I can lead you into the promised land someone else can just as easily lead you back out again." --Eugene Debs

          by Shliapnikov on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 12:10:15 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Phil Ochs had it right about "liberals." (10+ / 0-)

            I've never called myself a liberal either.

            For me, the expulsion of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn from the board of the ACLU (which she had helped found) because she was a Communist is the epitome of American "liberalism."

            When you triangulate everything, you can't even roll downhill...

            by PhilJD on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 12:21:40 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  LBJ by far was more to blame (7+ / 0-)

            for his totally unnecessary, literally uncalled for decision to massively escalate what had been, during Ike and Kennedy, only a low-level non-combat involvement.

            Re Kennedy's cabinet:  There is a taped exchange, featured in the Morris documentary Fog of War, about Feb 1964, where Johnson on the phone with SecDef McNamara, absolutely lays down the law to him about how unwise LBJ thought Kennedy's decision was to "cut and run" (or words to that effect) from VN (i.e., JFK's Oct '63 decision to begin a gradual pullout of US military advisors).

            No question in that phone conversation who is dictating to whom, no question that Johnson is showing McNamara that with a new, tougher guy in the Oval now, things over in VN will change, and that the SecDef damn well better realize the error of his ways and get on board with the new team.

            As for the lib Dems of the time, in1964 far too many (except Sens Morse and Gruening) naively assumed Lyin' Lyndon would not abuse the power he was given with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. But after a decent interval and reelect, that is indeed what he did.

            His chosen point man in the senate on the bill, Sen Fulbright (whom LBJ privately referred to as Sen Halfbright -- perhaps chosen for this very reason) would only a year later come to believe Johnson had lied to him about the resolution.  To his credit, as soon as he could the bitter Fulbright began holding public hearings (1966) on the war, televised by all 3 networks, which helped the public become more skeptical of our involvement over there.

            •  Behind that were political considerations... (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              HiKa, Thomas Twinnings

              ...not any concern for Vietnam or American strategic interests in the Cold War.  As strategists have pointed out, the commitment to Vietnam actually weakened our defense of western Europe and drained resources from the military assets tasked to defend the core areas of the Western Alliance.   As I said below in another post, LBJ was two thirds a timid devil, who knew the Vietnam War was a mistake, but who couldn't bring himself to pay the political price to end the war.  And his pride was involved.  I think of him as a kid who's been dared by his classmates to stick his finger in a light socket. The kid knows it's a bad idea, knows there's going to be a lot of pain and maybe he'll die, but he doesn't have the courage to ignore the dares.  Shit, look how he went out.  A brave man would have ended the war on his way out the door, the screams from the Right be damned.  Not LBJ.

              Join Essa in a revolt against the gods. Continue the fight, Causality.

              by rbird on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 02:02:57 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  LBJ is a hero of mine, (0+ / 0-)

              for all he did and tried to do for the average person, but like all hero's, he had his flaws, the VN build-up being the worst.
              I still honor him for the good he did.

              Severely Socialist 47283

              by ichibon on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 03:41:05 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  Why LBJ chose to expand the Vietnam War (0+ / 0-)

              is an immensely complex question, and historians will be debating it forever.  Human motivation is complicated even in relatively simply decisions, and most decisions have multiple "reasons." LBJ was a supremely political creature, and the "who lost China" debate of the 50's was certainly on his mind. Vague but powerful ideas of "national prestige" and showing how tough he/we were to the Russians and Chinese were also at work.

              But I would suggest that Vietnam, Korea, and most of the Cold War battles were based on two defining events which dominated the minds of that generation of leaders. I'm talking about Munich and Pearl Harbor. From Munich they learned that appeasing an aggressor was always wrong, and would lead to greater wars. Never mind that the situation in Southeast Asia was totally different from that in Europe in 1938. They had their lesson, and they were going to apply it.

              And from Pearl Harbor they learned vulnerability--"they" could attack us at any moment, out of a clear blue sky, and so we had to have a military always ready to fight. The idea that all Communist countries were a monolith, and would attack us as soon as our guard was down, was another vast oversimplification. But just as everything since 9/11/01 has been shaped by the attacks on the Twin Towers, everyone in LBJ's generation lived in the shadow of Pearl Harbor.

              Santayana may have been right when he said that those who forget the past are condemned to relive it. But it's just as dangerous to remember the past and misapply its lessons.

          •  The machine of war eats it's own (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Johnny Q, DavidMS

            In the opening days of The Great War, nobody
            wanted that war, not the French, the Brits, the
            Germans, the Austrians, the Turks or the Russians
            yet that war happened, and nobody was able to
            stop it until it had burned across europe.

            LBJ didn't want that war but he found himself
            unable to muster the political courage
            to say in 65 what he had said in 64.

            sad, really.

          •  I don't know if this is better for LBJ's memory... (0+ / 0-)

            ...or worse.  I think worse.  It's in the phone tapes of his conversations, released a couple years ago by the National Archives.  There are transcripts of them everywhere, along with the collection at the LBJ library, all online.  One google and you'll find them all.

            One thing comes clear, LBJ didn't want to be in Vietnam, but he felt compelled to put forces in due to politics and his own stubborn pride.  In one conversation, he fears that if he does pull out, the southern conservative wing of the Democratic party will revolt and gut his Great Society programs. In other words, he escalated the Vietnam War, refused to end the war, not because of the threat to Vietnam or the national interest, but for partisan political motives.

            You can see a little of what I'm talking about here, in a 1964 convo with Senator Richard Russell.

            Johnson: I just don't believe that outside of Morse, everybody that I've talked to says that you got to go in, including Hickenlooper, including all the Republicans, nobody disagreed with him yesterday when he made the statement that we had to stand. And I don't know how in hell you're going to get out, unless they tell you to get out.

            Russell: If we had a man over there running the government, that we told to get out, we could should do it

            Johnson: That's right, but you can't do that.

            Russell: I don't know if we could get somebody else. I don't remember that fellow's name, some sort of a maverick, that's got a bit of a following in below Saigon and then all our people hate him because he's always against the government. And he's not fighting them and all, but he's a very powerful man in Vietnam, and everybody who takes over the government gives him as an excuse for their repressions and suppressions. And if he were to get and say, "now you damn Yankees get out of here, I'm running the government now."

            Johnson: Wouldn't that pretty well fix us in the eyes of the world and make us look mighty bad?

            Russell: Well, I don't know, we don't look too good right now. And course, you'd look pretty good, I guess, going in there with all the troops, sending them all in there, but I'll tell you it'll be the most expensive adventure this country ever went into.

            Johnson: I've got a little old sergeant that works for me over at the house and he's got six children. And I just put him up as the United States Army and Air Force and Navy every time I think about making this decision. I think about sending that father of those six kids in there, and what the hell are we going to get out of his doing in? It just makes the chills run up my back.

            Russell: It does me.

            Johnson: I haven't the nerve to do it, but I don't see any other way out of it.

            Russell: It doesn't make much sense to do it. It's one of these things, heads I win, tails you lose.


            He also tried to limit political damage by rigging who was sent to Vietnam.  Check out "Project 100,000" while you're over at google.

            So, yeah, one third saint, two thirds timid devil, that's LBJ.

            Join Essa in a revolt against the gods. Continue the fight, Causality.

            by rbird on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 01:52:22 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  The perception of needing to be a war president. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Thomas Twinnings

            Lots of people believed FDR only got as much as he did politically because he was a war president.

          •  True about the war, but the repercussions (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            voicemail, Thomas Twinnings

            of LBJ's fall were, um, numerous and unfortunate, however wrong he was about Vietnam.

            We've never recovered from it.

            I tried to go online to find a similar bear head...but when I searched “Big Bear Head” it gave me a San Diego craigslist ad entitled “Big Bear needs some quick head now” and then I just decided to never go on the internet again.--Jenny Lawson

            by SouthernLiberalinMD on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 02:59:59 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  LBJ had a failure of nerve. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Old Sailor

            He wanted to avoid the carping of Senate Republicans like Goldwater. He wanted to avoid looking weak. He wanted his generals' reports of progress to be true.

            By the time he fully realized the war was a disaster it was too late, or at least he felt it was too late.

            We should never forget, though, that in derailing peace talks Nixon committed full-blown treason, just as Reagan did in preventing the release of US hostages from Iran.

            Dick Cheney 2/14/10: "I was a big supporter of waterboarding"

            by Bob Love on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 04:00:31 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  Both books are excellent. (6+ / 0-)

        I wouldn't go so far to say the CR movement would not have happened under a JFK admin, I think LBJ as veep would have been a hiding force in that arena. However you are correct in that LBJ's legislative skills (some rather bare knuckled) and him being a Southerner certainly resulted in faster and more thorough civil rights reforms than would have occurred otherwise.

        •  I saw a documentary which said that (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Heart of the Rockies

          the Kennedys looked down on LBJ and marginalized him. Would the Kennedy Administration have had the good sense to use LBJs talents? Such rifts can cripple an otherwise good team.

          "The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" ~Orwell, "1984"

          by Lily O Lady on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 11:17:29 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  If LBJ was marginalized, (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Lily O Lady

            it was probably well deserved, from what I've read.

            The guy's personality was overbearing and he never seemed trustworthy -- or loyal.  RFK later recounted a number of incidents in his oral history interviews.  JFK's sec'y Evelyn Lincoln, in her 1968 book Kennedy and Johnson, has several stunning reports she saw first hand of how JFK and LBJ did not get along, how Kennedy eventually could not stand to be around Lyndon.

            As for VP Johnson, Kennedy did occasionally seek his advice (to keep him inside the tent presumably).  On the proposed CR bill of 1963, Jack or Bobby had trouble getting Johnson to commit clearly one way or the other. Finally, one of them found out that LBJ favored delaying the bill until all other major Kennedy legislation had passed -- meaning a considerable delay given the lack of a liberal majority in congress in 63.

            JFK decided to slightly compromise, and delayed sending his bill to congress until some more prep work had been done -- 2-3 week delay only perhaps.

            •  LBJ and the Kennedys certainly clashed, but (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              inclusiveheart, Albanius

              LBJ did good work for the poor.

              Each side probably had bad things to say about the other. Strong personalities and ego have spoiled things more than once, which is sad.

              "The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" ~Orwell, "1984"

              by Lily O Lady on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 01:59:08 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  Kennedy's Presidency was in the midst (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Denise Oliver Velez, gramofsam1

          of the Civil Rights struggle, not prior to it. LBJ explicitly evoked Kennedy's memory and legacy on the issue in his push for the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

          Nothing human is alien to me.

          by WB Reeves on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 11:52:02 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  It was crystal clear to Caro.... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Albanius, poco

          that Johnson was enduring a living hell as VP.  Robert Kennedy hated him and distrusted him and kept him totally out of the loop.  As long as JFK and Bobby were in power, there wasn't much LBJ was going to do about anything significant as regards the Kennedy agenda and John Kennedy was clearly not gung ho about taking the lead on civil rights.

          LBJ felt the way he did primarily because of how he and his family had been treated because of their rural poverty, and how he saw Latinos treated because they were Hispanic.  That and his knowledge of the legislative process and the bulls of the Senate who controlled it, made passage ultimately possible.

          Free markets would be a great idea, if markets were actually free.

          by dweb8231 on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 01:45:20 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  There's irony in more ways than one here (11+ / 0-)

        What you mention of it is spot-on:

        That Hoover is so discredited today is due, in no insignificant part to the fact that his own wiretaps wound up documenting what he had done.  
        Yet look closely at what those taps did:
        With them you have a much clearer understanding, not only of what Hoover was doing, but what King was doing, who he was meeting, and what they were saying to each other....They also document just how nasty Hoover was:  He was able to arrange wiretaps at the drop of a hat and usually with the often eager cooperation of local police, politicians and hotel operators.   He would often take excerpts of what his agents had gathered and send them off to friends in Congress, and the press with a hand-written note...."I thought you would be interested in this."

        And he repeatedly did likewise with notes to Presidents both to try and encourage their support and to subtly remind them that he had eyes and ears everywhere.

        Sound familiar? It's still going on, except instead of a "who", it's an IT. IT IS EVERYWHERE.

        And it can accomplish the same things that Hoover did, except faster and easier. And nobody is holding IT responsible for anything. In fact, we now have a Congress that is poised to allow it to continue.

        Don't think for one minute that agents of NSA don't send "notes" or other types of communications or veiled messages or tweets or what-have-you, to sundry Very Serious Persons all over Washington, to subtly remind them of IT's presence.

        The spirit of Dr. King weeps today that we celebrate him at the same time that Alexander's monster has a grip on our government. Weeps bitterly, no doubt.

        This all started with "what the Republicans did to language".

        by lunachickie on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 11:07:00 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Kennedy also would have (0+ / 0-)

        gotten the CRA passed, if not in 1964 then certainly after a major landslide reelection victory in Nov, bringing along for the first time in his presidency a working liberal majority to Congress.

        As for T Branch, read the first two volumes years ago, and no longer have them, but I recall he used FBI transcripts of the alleged taps?  If correct, I wonder how accurate they were.

        For instance, in the 2d volume there is a very curious, incredibly disgusting, suspect passage where Dr King at home with his wife is watching some televised review of the assassination weekend, where JFK's body is lying in the Capitol bldg.  Dr King supposedly reacts to the part where Jackie goes over with Caroline at her side and gently kisses the flag-draped coffin.  

        I won't repeat what Branch/the FBI have King saying, but it's very vulgar in a sexual way -- so over the top I can't believe any of it.  But Branch included the reaction in the text of his book, as if he stood by the credibility of the facts here.  I don't recall if he even mentioned how so out of character this supposed incident appeared for as celebrated a figure as Dr King.

        Anyway, Taylor Branch is an acclaimed author, but that passage really made me wonder how much of the volumes contents can be taken to the bank.  Perhaps someone can flesh this out or correct my decade-old or more memory.

        •  I think having those transcripts was a huge aid... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          to Branch in then conducting his extensive interviews with the major figures of the movement on all sides.

          Having a transcript....even if flawed in some way by the FBI...provided a memory stimulus to those who were part of the original conversation and an opportunity to potentially correct potential misunderstandings or errors.

          e.g.  The FBI records captured a phone call MLK had with you....or you met in a hotel room with Dr. King and with X,Y and Z to discuss the following....tell us what happened.

          It was true that like so many eavesdroppers, Hoover got all lathered up whenever his wiretaps captured King with someone in his room who was not his wife.  

          William Sullivan, a top FBI official created a compilation tape of such episodes and distributed it widely to King's colleagues, and politicians.  He sent a copy to King along with an anonymous letter urging him to commit suicide and he sent a copy to Coretta.  It sat unopened for several months but she eventually opened it and listened.

          These were VERY nasty people and today many, based on that tainted mess, still believe King was a communist.

          Free markets would be a great idea, if markets were actually free.

          by dweb8231 on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 01:57:16 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Kennedy was not on track to pass (0+ / 0-)

          or marshal any of the civil rights legislation through Congress at the time of his death.

          What a lot of people don't understand is that it was the national tragedy of his assassination that actually created the political opportunity for LBJ to move the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act.  Think Bush, Jr. with 9/11 and how he and Cheney capitalized on the tragedy in order to advance their agenda.  Just like Bush and Cheney, LBJ was mean as a snake and viscously attacked anyone who obstructed him - and he used Hoover's intel to basically blackmail some Members of Congress into going along.

          Important to note that "not on track" does not mean that JFK didn't care.  It means that the Congress was not going to listen to him even if he did.  He did not have the gravitas within the establishment - or the mean SOB reputation and reality that LBJ offered.

          Venerating LBJ for his choices on the civil rights front may have merit and may not have any at all.  His motivation was to make himself a hero and that is not a parallel motivation to that which MLK brought to the table.  MLK was seeking survival for a people.  LBJ was seeking adoration.  Neither could have succeeded without the other regardless of motives.  Unfortunately, the non-violent and visionary Martin Luther King had his agenda greatly advanced by a modern-day Machiavellian prince or darkness.

          Life is messy.

    •  And what could be done with millions of (18+ / 0-)

      text messages, millions of phone calls, millions of cell phone locations, today?   The NSA is J. Edgar Hoover on boatloads of steroids. The potential for abuse of that information far outweighs the value in "preventing terrorism" whatever that really is.

      "The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer." -- James Baldwin. July 11, 1966.

      by YucatanMan on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 10:43:24 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Pierce addressed this topic today (20+ / 0-)

        in his usual style:

        The most queasy-inducing part of the president's big NSA speech last week was this passage:

        In fact, during the course of our review, I've often reminded myself I would not be where I am today were it not for the courage of dissidents like Dr. King who were spied upon by their own government. And as president, a president who looks at intelligence every morning, I also can't help but be reminded that America must be vigilant in the face of threats.

        Is there any doubt, had there been a Dr. King in the past two decades who opposed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as vigorously as Dr. King opposed the Vietnam catastrophe at the end of his life, that the full might of the modern American intelligence apparatus would have landed squarely on his head? That his metadata would be unusually -- How you say? -- piquant in the various cubicles at NSA? That some of it would be strategically leaked to strategically important congresscritters and pundits and reporters? That, upon taking office in 2009, this president would have kept in place most of the programs with which that data on our new Dr. King was collected, perhaps tailoring them around the edges, perhaps installing some more weak-tea oversight than was there before, but keeping the basic philosophy behind the programs embedded in the American government as some sort of "balance" between security and civil liberties? I have none.

        Some men see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?

        by RFK Lives on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 10:55:44 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Wheeler has a good piece contrasting MLK's (5+ / 0-)

          warning against assuming the role of world's policeman with President Obama's embrace of dragnet exceptionalism:

          And don’t let anybody make you think that God chose America as his divine, messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with judgment, and it seems that I can hear God saying to America, “You’re too arrogant! And if you don’t change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power, and I’ll place it in the hands of a nation that doesn’t even know my name. Be still and know that I’m God.”

          –Martin Luther King, “It’s A Dark Day In Our Nation“

          "I am confident that we're going to be able to leave the Gulf Coast in better shape than it was before." President Obama

          by quagmiremonkey on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 02:20:45 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site