Over 600 documents were recently released from the archives of the FBI, shedding some light on the investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. But while the documents didn’t do much to end the debate about who really shot JFK, they did hold some disturbing information about another historical figure: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The documents were dated March 12, 1968, and were part of a broader investigation by the FBI into the famous Civil Rights icon. Inside were a series of allegations about Dr. King’s sex life, covering everything from numerous affairs to illegitimate children and even reports that Dr. King hosted orgies.
While Martin Luther King Jr. was a huge part of the fight for equal rights, there have long been rumors that his personal conduct was a bit less righteous. Several biographies have detailed King’s attachments to women other than his wife. By most accounts, King struggled with temptation and had a weakness for women. King’s wife, Coretta, seems to have taken these affairs in stride, saying, “all that other business just doesn’t have a place in the very high-level relationship we enjoyed.” But that didn’t stop the FBI from using the affairs to try to drive King to suicide.
On November 21, 1964, Coretta Scott King received a mysterious package in the mail. Inside was a letter and a tape recording. The letter claimed that the recording was a tape of Martin Luther King having sex with another woman. And the letter made it clear that if King didn’t stop advocating for civil rights, the tape would find its way to the press. “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.”
As King interpreted the warning, the “one thing” the letter suggested he had left to do was to take his own life. And the most disturbing part was that the letter was almost certainly from the FBI. Of course, if you’re wondering how the FBI got a tape of King’s affair, there’s an alarming explanation. The FBI had been monitoring King’s activities for years. The head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, was convinced that King posed a threat to the stability of American society. And he was determined to find evidence that would allow the FBI to discredit King as either a communist agent or a sexual deviant.
So, Hoover ordered his agents to tap King’s phones and bug the places he stayed. They also interviewed people who knew King in the hopes that some of them might have some compromising information. The information that the FBI agents collected was forwarded to Hoover and to the President, Lyndon Johnson. Though Johnson often liked to associate himself with King, he too had a low personal opinion of the reverend. He once referred to King as a “hypocritical preacher,” likely based on the information that the FBI uncovered. After all, a great deal of the shocking accounts the FBI claimed to have uncovered went far beyond adultery…