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Give peace no chance: how Hoover hunted Martin Luther King

Documentary featuring astonishing footage draws on previously unseen files that track the FBI’s obsession with Martin Luther King Jnr

14 January, 2021 — By Dan Carrier

Martin Luther King in MLK/FBI, Sam Pollard’s timely documentary

MLK/FBI
Directed by Sam Pollard
Certificate: PG
☆☆☆☆

THE shadow of the Federal Bureau of Investigation has loomed over contemporary United States history, either portrayed as the heroic G-Men who have taken down mobsters, caught serial killers and kept the people safe, or seen as a reactionary political police, doing the dirty work for their scheming, Machiavellian boss J Edgar Hoover who considered black people, Communists and Jews as the enemy within.

This timely documentary by Sam Pollard draws on previously unseen files that track the FBI’s obsession – and particularly Hoover’s – with Martin Luther King Jnr.

The Baptist minister was soon on Hoover’s radar after he helped organise the Montgomery bus boycott, which was an important crack in the edifice of racist laws.

That he was close friends with a Jewish lawyer, Sidney Levinson, someone with Communist sympathies, a bogeyman was created in Hoover’s eyes.

It mattered not that King preached peace and brotherhood, that he clearly laid out a politics based on a moral imperative drawn from his beliefs, nor that he spoke of such work as being a form of patriotism and love of one’s country.

No – King represented danger to the FBI, a clear threat to what the USA meant to an agency made up of suit-wearing white men.

So the FBI got to work, and as we see through this film, as King’s notoriety grew, the FBI’s attempts to discredit him reached extraordinary proportions.

They tapped hotels he was staying in – and found a chink in King’s personality, an alleged enjoyment of the company of women in private.

Realising they would struggle to take him down politically, they went for the personal, and Pollard’s research reveals what they did.

It got worse for the FBI: King won the Nobel Peace Prize; he acknowledged that it wasn’t just black rights that needed his attention but all social justice; and that the Vietnam war was a criminal undertaking.

Such moves meant Hoover felt King was a talisman of everything going wrong in the nation – and they wanted him disarmed, disgraced or dead.

Pollard has used astonishing footage, and made the very most of access to previously secret papers.

And how timely is it that we look again at the white establishment’s treatment of a man of peace? With the USA in dire trouble today, with the threats from far-right populism still to be defeated, King’s message of peace and justice rings out as loud and clear as it did when he took to podiums in the 1960s.

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