The FBI Threatened MLK With Anonymous Letter, Told Him To Kill Himself

Library Of Congress / Public Domain

"There is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days."

Monday is a day to celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man whose name is synonymous with the Civil Rights Movement and brings to mind moving speeches and the notion of unity.

But Dr. King was not always thought of so fondly, and often in celebrating his accomplishments Americans forget that he was reviled by many as he walked the streets in protest and preached equality from the pulpit.

This truth is evidenced in a letter to Dr. King written by the CIA - an effort to silence or sideline what they perceived as a radical social agitator.

When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech before huge crowds on the National Mall in August 1963, the FBI took notice.

"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 later.

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover believed he could show Dr. King to be a communist, but in failing to prove it the FBI uncovered a string of extramarital affairs.

A letter soon arrived, accompanied by tapes of Dr. King's illicit activities, saying in part:

"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 says. It threatens that the public "will know you for what you are — an evil, abnormal beast." It continues: "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 concluded:

"There is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days," the letter says, apparently urging King to commit suicide. Fortunately, King didn't back down. But the letter is a terrifying reminder of what government surveillance agencies can be capable of.

See full text below.

(National Archives, College Park, Maryland/New York Times)