These days, when King is so widely treated as hero, it is easy to let that darker history slip from our minds, as if everyone and his brother just heard King's oratory and recognized the need to end the injustices which he opposed. But the racist resistance to King's words and actions should forever be part of our remembrance of the man and the causes he espoused. It wasn't just Southern politicians, the murdering Ku Klux Klan and white Citizens Councils along with their handpicked racist sheriffs who opposed King and the civil rights movement. Foes of equality went a good deal higher than that.
Last August, when the 50th anniversary of King's "I have a dream" speech was commemorated, David Corn at Mother Jones took note of one of those foes:
In response to King's address, J. Edgar Hoover, the omnipotent FBI director, intensified the bureau's clandestine war against the heroic civil rights leader.It would be more than seven years after Hoover began his crusade against King before the FBI's Counter Intelligence Program (CoIntelPro) was exposed. Hoover had used it to target communist, socialist and civil rights groups with a specific intent: to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize" these organizations. 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.
For years, Hoover had been worried—or obsessed—by King, viewing him as a profound threat to national security. Hoover feared that the communist conspiracy he was committed to smashing (whether it was a real danger or not) was the hidden hand behind the civil rights movement and was using it to subvert American society. ...
The August 1963 march, which captured the imagination of many Americans, further unhinged Hoover and his senior aides. The day after the speech, William Sullivan, a top Hoover aide, noted in a memo, "In the light of King's powerful demagogic speech…We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security." Six weeks later, pressured by Hoover, Bobby Kennedy authorized full electronic surveillance of King. FBI agents placed bugs in King's hotel rooms; they tapped his phones; they bugged his private apartment in Atlanta. The surveillance collected conversations about the civil rights movement's strategies and tactics—and also the sounds of sexual activity. Hoover was enraged by the intelligence about King's private activities. At one point, according to Weiner's book, while discussing the matter with an aide, an irate Hoover banged a glass-topped desk with his fist and shattered it.
In King's legacy are many lessons. One too often left out of our public remembrances is that the powers that be have no compunctions against crushing righteous dissent and then whitewashing their role in doing so.