‘You Are Done’: The Chilling “Suicide Letter” Sent to Martin Luther King by the F.B.I.

mlk uncovered letter

In Novem­ber of 1964, Mar­tin Luther King received a chill­ing let­ter, pur­port­ed­ly from a dis­il­lu­sioned mem­ber of the African-Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty. “King, look into your heart,” writes MLK’s crit­ic. “You know you are a com­plete fraud and a great lia­bil­i­ty to all of us Negroes.”

The let­ter then turns men­ac­ing. It gives the civ­il rights leader a choice. Com­mit sui­cide or get killed:

You are done.

King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days in which to do it (this exact num­ber has been select­ed for a spe­cif­ic rea­son, it has def­i­nite prac­ti­cal sig­nif­i­cance). You are done. There is but one way out for you. You bet­ter take it before your filthy, abnor­mal fraud­u­lent self is bared to the nation.

Straight from the begin­ning, King knew the real author behind the “sui­cide let­ter,” as it’s now called. It was the FBI, led by J. Edgar Hoover, who har­bored a deep and abid­ing hatred for King. For years, the pub­lic only had access to redact­ed copies of the let­ter. The redac­tions obscured the meth­ods of the FBI — the way the agency tried to “frac­ture move­ments and pit lead­ers against one anoth­er,” writes the Elec­tron­ic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion, and the way it used sur­veil­lance to invade King’s per­son­al life and then black­mailed him with the infor­ma­tion it gath­ered. That’s what’s hap­pen­ing in the para­graph that begins “No per­son can over­come the facts, not even a fraud like your­self.”

This sum­mer, while research­ing at the Nation­al Archives, Bev­er­ly Gage, a pro­fes­sor of Amer­i­can his­to­ry at Yale, stum­bled upon an unredact­ed copy. You can read it above. On Tues­day, Gage wrote about the let­ter and its his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance in The New York Times. The unredact­ed let­ter was also pub­lished in the Times.

via Boing­Bo­ing/EFF

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Read Mar­tin Luther King and The Mont­gomery Sto­ry: The Influ­en­tial 1957 Civ­il Rights Com­ic Book

200,000 Mar­tin Luther King Papers Go Online

The Exis­ten­tial­ism Files: How the FBI Tar­get­ed Camus, and Then Sartre After the JFK Assas­si­na­tion

Free Online His­to­ry Cours­es

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