Thursday, April 03, 2008

Martin Luther King and J. Edgar Hoover

He knew he was going to die. Before Martin Luther King was shot and killed on the balcony of a Memphis motel forty years ago tomorrow, he went to see his parents to prepare them.

“The reports are that they are out to get me,” he told them. “I have to go on with my work, I’m too deeply involved now to get out, it’s all too important. Sometimes I want to stop. Just go away somewhere and have some quiet days, finally, a quiet life with Coretta and the children. But it’s too late for that now. I have my path before me. I know what I have to do.”

The hatred came from many directions, not only from white racists but, as we now know from FBI files, from J. Edgar Hoover, the Director, who had agents bug his hotel rooms and send him anonymous threatening letters, urging him to commit suicide.

"King," read one of them, "there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is...You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation."

In Hoover's files, there are angry scrawls on Dr. King's press clips. On a story about King receiving the St. Francis peace medal from the Catholic Church, he wrote "this is disgusting." On King being expected to win the Nobel Prize, he wrote "King could well qualify for the 'top alley cat' prize!"

Then one of the most powerful men in the nation, Hoover is forgotten now. What remains is the image of Martin Luther King, who changed America, on the night before he died, concluding his last speech with these words:

"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And 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!"

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