Published in collaboration with women-s.net
How did the FBI’s obsession with King and his wife come to be?
J. Edgar Hoover, the first director of the FBI, was one of the most controversial figures of the 20th century, known to have exploited his position to harass civil rights leaders and accumulate evidence illegally. One of his biggest targets, Martin Luther King, was monitored by the FBI for 12 years.
Coretta Scott King was a victim of domestic eavesdropping during most of her marriage to MLK. Hoover, suspecting that King had communist sympathies, abused his power and led a campaign to undermine the credibility of the black civil rights leader by keeping a close watch on him for almost a third of his life.
Bugging MLK’s home, office, hotel rooms and wiretapping his phones didn’t provide them with proof of communism, but instead allegedly uncovered extramarital affairs. Hoover became the family’s number one enemy.
Caught up in the FBI’s obsession was Martin Luther King’s wife, Coretta Scott King. Convinced her husband was faithful to her, she claimed he had a ‘guilt complex’ that would make him tell her the truth. Finding evidence of serial adultery allowed the FBI to make attempts at destroying their marriage.
Since surveillance had revealed that Mrs. King was in charge of MLK’s mail when he was away, they planned to mail the tapes of the alleged affairs from a southern state. Coretta Scott King was sent graphic recordings of her husband having sex with other women.
Her reaction? Tranquility and serenity. She professed the tapes were “just a lot of mumbo jumbo” and continued believing her husband was faithful. Even after being called “the most notorious liar in the country” and “the most dangerous and effective Negro leader”, the FBI failed to destroy Coretta’s marriage.
Later, another package was mailed to Martin Luther King by the FBI anonymously signed. Some suggested the blackmail package was sent to get him to decline the Nobel Peace Prize or to renounce leadership, but MLK presumed it was to drive him to commit suicide. The tapes were played to the media in an attempt to overthrow the black civil rights leader.
Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s autobiography addressed Martin Luther King’s infidelity and confirmed the people’s suspicion raised by the FBI
MLK’s last public address was the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech at the Mason Temple, introduced by Rev Ralph Abernathy. Abernathy was the man holding unconscious King in his arms after he was fatally shot.
He became the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference following MLK’s assassination and later wrote an autobiography And the Walls Came Tumbling Down. The autobiography became a matter of controversy due to Abernathy’s allegations of having extramarital affairs, covering only two of the 672-page book.
Abernathy stated: “King understood and believed in the Biblical prohibition against sex outside marriage, it was just that he had a particularly difficult time with that temptation.” According to the book, he had a weakness for women and was a serial womaniser.
Of course, J. Edgar Hoover became preoccupied with Martin’s private life early in the civil rights movement, and this preoccupation was a significant factor in Hoover’s pathological hatred of him and the movement he headed.
Early in the game, the FBI began to bug our various hotel rooms, hoping to discover our strategy but also to gather evidence that could be used against Martin personally.
I remember in particular a stay at the Willard Hotel in Washington, where they not only put in audio receivers, but video equipment as well. Then, after collecting enough of this “evidence” to be useful, they began to distribute it to reporters, law officers, and other people in a position to hurt us.
Finally, when no one would do Hoover’s dirty work for him, someone in the FBI put together a tape of highly intimate moments and sent them to Martin. Unfortunately — and perhaps this was deliberate — Coretta received the tape and played it first. But such accusations never seemed to touch her. She rose above all the petty attempts to damage their marriage by refusing to even entertain such thoughtsgg.
Only one woman came forward claiming to be a lover of MLK. Georgia Davis Powers, the first person of color and the first woman elected to the Senate, spoke of her relationship with the black civil rights leader in her autobiography I Shared the Dream: The Pride, Passion, and Politics of the First Black Woman Senator from Kentucky.
The FBI’s Investigation on Coretta Scott King after MLK’s death
FBI agents continued spying for several years on Martin Luther King’s wife after his assassination in 1968. They believed she’d take the same steps as her late husband and follow in his footsteps.
They expressed their concern of Coretta Scott King making attempts to tying the anti-Vietnam movement to the civil rights movement. Four years after MLK’s death, the FBI finally closed her file.
A memo dated Nov. 30, 1972, stated: “No information has come to the attention of Atlanta which indicates a propensity for violence or affiliation of subversive elements.“
Coretta King addressed her husband’s alleged extramarital affairs in a posthumous memoir My Life, My Love, My Legacy, told in a series of interviews with journalist and longtime friend Dr. Barbara Reynolds.
One of the main questions asked in the book is if Martin Luther King’s wife truly believed her husband was loyal to her. Coretta simply replied that sex sells, fidelity doesn’t.