This is a history of Martin Luther King’s courageous fight for civil rights in this country from 1955 to 1968. From the beginning of his activism, he was a suspect for treason in J. Edgar Hoover’s mind. The head of the FBI grew up in the south, and maintained an attitude toward Blacks signifying that they are by nature susceptible to “dangerous ideologies” like communism, that they do not have basic American values, and that Black men in particular must be monitored for sexual deviance. After a protest march in Washington, D.C. and MLK’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Hoover referred to King as “the most dangerous man in America”, a remarkable statement, given that MLK was always an advocate for nonviolent protest. Perhaps we should take from this the power of a position of nonviolence.
The documentary directed by George Pollard is based on a number of biographies about the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his leadership in advocating for freedom, equality, and justice for his people and other minorities such as Latinos, Native Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Appalachian whites. And it’s about the FBI’s continual surveillance of him using wire-taps, bugs, and FBI agents listening in, in an adjoining room, first in efforts to associate him with Stanley D. Levison (activist, CPA, attorney) and the Communist party, then with marital infidelity as a way of publicly embarrassing him and weakening his leadership, in the hope that his followers would abandon him.
Pollard and his writers Benjamin Hedin and Laura Tomaselli present a coherent, even-handed approach in telling his story and what happened to Martin Luther King, Jr. David J. Garrow’s biography (The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Solo” to Memphis) is used as a primary source, along with newly declassified documents and interviews of some of his associates and biographers such as personal counselor Clarence Jones, activist and close confident Andrew Young, journalist Marc Perrusquia, historian Beverly Gage, and Professor Donna Murch.
The documentary characterizes King’s relationship with the John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson administrations, the continued FBI surveillance on King’s life and its use of informers. Although King was skeptical when he was first told about the government’s surveillance, he began to realize it was possible, and when he read in a publication about the U.S. using napalm in Vietnam, he was convinced that he could no longer support the U.S. in its war effort. The effect of these statements on the Johnson administration with all its political troubles had far-reaching effects.
The documentary does a good job of tracing the roots of racism back to slavery and its persistence through time, and when it comes to light that the FBI has gone so far as sending disparaging letters to King, suggesting he kill himself, James Comey, Former FBI director, is quoted as observing that it was the darkest part of the FBI’s history.”
MLK/FBI serves as a useful historical account of the years in the 1950’s when the U.S. was just becoming aware of racial issues and the influence of Martin Luther King Jr., and the 1960’s when protests came to a head around King’s opposition to the Vietnam War. King is a hero who will be recognized for ages to come.
A timely documentary that should be required of all young people in school, and informative as well to those beyond.
Grade: A By Donna R. Copeland