After more than a year’s work, KHOU-TV in Houston and its investigative unit, 11 News Defenders, have obtained a world-exclusive first look at the FBI’s file on Coretta Scott King. Comprised of nearly 500 pages, with some of those documents partially or totally censored, the intelligence file paints a disturbing picture: The FBI very closely spied and did surveillance on Scott King for years, keeping close track of her public appearances, speeches and especially anytime she traveled.
Why would a federal agency go to such trouble?
For most of his life FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ruled the Bureau with a tight grip. In addition he opposed the civil rights movement as being an “un-American” and “subversive cause” and even called Martin Luther King Jr. “the Black Messiah,” saying he was too powerful. In public statements Hoover also called the leader “immoral” and accused him of being influenced by the Communists. Hence began an intense “counter-intelligence” campaign of surveillance, bugging, and harassment by the FBI’s “Racial Intelligence Section” that centered around MLK, his relatives, and associates.
But KHOU has found that even after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, the FBI’s Scott King file shows the Bureau actually intensified their spying and surveillance of the new widow.
The newly released documents show the Bureau closely tracked and scrutinized Scott King’s comings and goings, including public appearance and what was said there. But the file also shows that the Bureau’s real worry about Scott King was not the civil rights movement but instead her involvement with the peace and “anti-Vietnam War” movement. Government officials were afraid that she might try to complete what her husband had been doing when he died: “attempt to tie the anti-Vietnam war movement to the civil rights movement,” as one FBI agent put it.
During the late ’60s, the anti-war movement was snowballing in strength and was considered a real danger to the war effort by both the Johnson and Nixon administrations. Adding the hundreds of thousands involved in the civil rights effort to the war protest was thus considered “a danger.” In fact, the file shows the FBI was copying various military intelligence organizations on her activities including the 115th M.I. of the U.S. Army, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and a number of military bases. Other reports also show the White House being in the loop on this surveillance.
KHOU requested an interview with the FBI regarding the Scott King file and what we found. However the FBI declined comment except to say that the Bureau has changed.
And the Scott King file may back up that claim.
Several months after J. Edgar Hoover died in 1972, finally the Atlanta FBI office sent a memo to the Acting Director saying, “no information has come to the attention of Atlanta which indicates a propensity for violence or affiliation with subversive elements,” and concluded, “In view of all of the above, Atlanta is closing the case concerning Mrs. King.”
The FBI’s reply? “Yes, definitely.”
STRAIGHT DOPE: “The alleged transvestitism of John Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI from 1924 until his death in 1972, has never been established, and reputable historians say it’s an urban legend. The story probably got its start because of much more plausible rumors that J. Edgar was gay. He and his right-hand man, Clyde Tolson, were constant companions for more than 40 years, even vacationing together, and both remained lifelong bachelors. (Hoover lived with his mom until she died in 1938.) They say Richard Nixon, on hearing of Hoover’s death, exclaimed with his customary delicacy, “Jesus Christ! That old cocksucker!”
Which brings us back to Tolson, and to Hoover’s rumored homosexuality. There were hints about this throughout the FBI boss’s career, some of them admittedly a little silly. A 1930s magazine article describes Hoover’s mincing step. He was a bit dandyish, favoring white linen suits as a young man; he had classical statues of male nudes at his home, and one of his hobbies was antique collecting. On the more serious side, many people sensed that his long relationship with Tolson was more than a friendship — the pair never lived together, but they’re buried side by side. Today some gay activists include Hoover and Tolson in their pantheons of famous gay couples. But appearances notwithstanding, no one has found concrete evidence that the two men were anything other than buds. Given Hoover’s ability to cover his tracks — his associates, with Tolson’s help, destroyed many of his files upon his death–it’s unlikely anyone ever will.”
RELATED: But perhaps the most disturbing single document in the Scott King file is a March 1969 report from the FBI’s Atlanta office to Hoover. The subject was the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, MLK’s No. 2 man [pictured left, seated next to MLK], and the then-new president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the spearhead organization for the civil rights movement. In the report the FBI details an uncertain and “shaky” Abernathy who was “concerned about his possible assassination as well as his position as President of the SCLC?” So the agent makes a recommendation: “It is felt that by notifying Abernathy directly upon receipt of information relating to threats against his life, some rapport may be developed with him?” The report also adds that doing this would give the benefit of “the disruptive effect of confusing and worrying him by reminding him of continuous threats against his life.” [via KHOU]
ASSOCIATED PRESS: FOIA Request Forces FBI To Reveal New Surveillance Techniques