From 1954 through to 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., an American Baptist minister, was the most visible spokesperson and leader in the civil rights movement.
By 1955, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had begun monitoring King, especially during his involvement with the Montgomery bus boycott.
Its director at the time, J. Edgar Hoover was “personally hostile” toward King, as he believed that the civil rights leader was influenced by Communists. Thus, Hoover and his bureau started a series of covert operations against King during the 1960s.
Things got worse when King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech before huge crowds in August 1963 at The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in Washington, D.C.
“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,” FBI Domestic Intelligence Chief William Sullivan wrote in a memo two days after the speech.
Regarded as one of the most famous speeches in U.S. history and a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement, the speech called for civil and economic rights and an end to racism in the U.S.
Under the FBI’s domestic counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO), reports said King was subjected to various kinds of FBI surveillance. Though the massive surveillance failed to show that King was a communist, it produced alleged evidence of extramarital affairs.
Technicians at the bureau prepared a package containing so-called sex tapes of King and sent it to his home alongside a letter. The package was opened by the civil rights leader’s wife.
“You have been on the record — all your adulterous acts, your sexual orgies extending far into the past. This one is but a tiny sample,” the letter read.
“Your ‘honorary’ degrees, your Nobel prize (what a grim farce) and other awards will not save you. King, I repeat you are done,” the unsigned letter, which was unearthed by Yale historian Beverly Gage in 2014 added.
“There is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days,” the letter continued, ostensibly urging King to commit suicide.
Even though the letter was unsigned and was written in the tone of an aggrieved black person, King and his advisors were smart enough to know that it was coming from the FBI.
Not backing down, the iconic leader continued his civil rights campaigns.
Note that, he had embarked on a series of demonstrations and gone through jail, apart from being threatened with death.
Before passing away in 1968, King had made plans for another march on Washington to revive his movement and bring attention to scores of issues.
On April 3, he gave his final and what proved to be a prophetic speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” in which he told supporters at the Mason Temple in Memphis, “I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”
The next day, he died.
Read the full letter FBI sent him here: