Being constitutionally unable to admire demagogues, whatever their sermon, I could never warm up to Martin Luther King.
This isn’t to say that his cause, as generally perceived, wasn’t just. Racial discrimination is abominable on every level, moral, practical, legal, intellectual – and above all religious.
How self-professed Christians, who had equality inscribed even on their secular banners, could enforce Jim Crow segregation laws until 1965, is a question I’ve always found baffling.
The same way, I suppose the answer should be, as Thomas Jefferson, the man who did the actual inscribing, could whip his slaves to mincemeat for trying to escape or breed them (at times personally) using the same husbandry methods that worked a treat on livestock.
It’s clear that even in his time, to say nothing of ours, there was a large gap between a politician’s actions, indeed beliefs, in private and his pronouncements in public. Demagoguery is there to fill the gap, and it generally does a good job unless what’s to be filled isn’t so much a gap as a chasm.
When this is the case, private actions can jeopardise the cause championed by the politician. Res privata can destroy res publica.
The destruction can be especially severe when the politician spends his spare time in Sodom and Gomorrah while preaching from the pulpit the moral delights of the garden of Eden.
Yet King’s public cause was so just that it survived his wholehearted attempts to undermine it by his private dissolution. What is truly amazing is that his personal reputation has also survived intact. In fact, King has been elevated to secular sainthood, and woe betide anyone attempting to remove or sully his halo.
It’s in this context that one should read a letter written to King by one of J. Edgar Hoover’s deputies, generally believed to be William C. Sullivan.
(I inserted the disclaimer simply because the author of the letter describes King as “a complete fraud and a great liability to all of us Negroes”, and Sullivan appears to be white in his photographs.)
In a way the precise authorship of the missive is a matter of academic interest only, for it’s clear it came from the highest echelons of the FBI.
The author attaches the tapes secretly recorded by FBI taps on King’s phone and bugs in his hotel rooms, a surveillance programme authorised by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.
He issued that authorisation because an investigation had shown that Stanley Levinson, one of King’s trusted advisers, was a CPUSA member and Soviet spy through whom KGB funds were pumped into the civil rights movement.
In other words, the Soviets were using the movement for their own nefarious purposes in exactly the same way they used their entire network of front organisations, such as our own dear CND.
This justified the taps, yet they yielded results that had more to do with perversion than subversion. For King’s sex life, as revealed by the recordings, made Sodom look like a kindergarten outing to the Science Museum.
The author of the letter enclosed the tapes and commented on their content in a language of moral outrage that no politician of today would either feel or dare express.
Suggesting that King’s “immoral conduct [was] lower than that of a beast”, the author vented his feelings with unremitting gusto. Here are some scattered fragments (I retain the original syntax and spelling):
“You are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that.”
“…a dissolute, abnormal moral imbecile…”
Listen to the tapes and “you will find yourself and in all your dirt, filth, evil and moronic talk exposed on the record for all time…”
“…you will find… your filthy, dirty evil companions, male and female giving expression with you to your hidious abnormalities.”
“Satan could not do more.”
“Listen to yourself you filthy abnormal animal…”
The author then promised to publish the transcripts in 34 days, thereby destroying King for ever. However, he offered the addressee the honourable way out: suicide.
This was akin to an officers’ court convicting one of their comrades of dishonourable conduct and leaving him in a room alone with a bottle of whisky and a loaded revolver.
Since Martin Luther King was neither an officer nor a gentleman, it wasn’t his own bullet that ended his life. Yet the facts caught on tape, apart from the allusion to homosexual orgies, were widely known at the time.
Both King’s wife Coretta and his second in command Ralph Abernathy begged him to modify his behaviour, but in vain. King ignored Ralph and beat Coretta, another practice that doesn’t exactly jibe with secular canonisation.
The transcripts were never published in King’s lifetime, and he denied all charges of dissolution, prompting Hoover to call him “the most notorious liar in the country”.
Hoover judging someone else’s sexual morality may make the words ‘teapot’ and ‘kettle’ pop up in one’s mind. But, unlike King, Hoover neither sought nor received a posthumous reputation for rectitude.
Don’t know about you, but I experience intense Schadenfreude every time a leftie idol is brought down a peg or two. The question is, does a leader’s personal behaviour cast aspersion on his cause?
I can only answer this with a resounding ‘it depends’ – on the nature of the cause and the degree of misbehaviour. Privately though, I have to fight nausea every time I see someone living in the gutter trying to claim high moral ground.
My new book, Democracy as a Neocon Trick, is available from Amazon and the more discerning bookshops. However, my publisher would rather you ordered it from http://www.roperpenberthy.co.uk/index.php/browse-books/political/democracy-as-a-neocon-trick.htmlor, in the USA, http://www.newwinebookshop.com/Books/0002752