The following was initially prepared for what was ultimately a press release from the Institute for Public Accuracy (see below). And let’s not forget the 1999 trial, Coretta Scott King, et al. v. Loyd Jowers, where a jury found that the U.S. government had indeed been involved in the assassination of Dr. King. The transcripts also demonstrate the extent of the state’s surveillance of King.
Any appreciation for the history of human rights struggle in the United States makes the more recent revelations about the “surveillance state” less revelatory than inevitable. It is merely the incompleteness of those liberation struggles that has meant an ability – and need – for power to surveil more and more and for this surveillance to move increasingly from the political battlefield to incorporate “civilians.” For those who were/are consciously involved in political struggle surveillance has always been an overwhelming concern. Before his more famous exploits chasing organized crime, even before there was an FBI, J. Edgar Hoover made his first target Marcus Garvey, Anarchists and organized labor. By the time Hoover’s organization turned its focus to Dr. King his state surveillance compatriots had already cut their teeth on King’s movement predecessors such as Vicky Garvin and Esther Cooper Jackson. This kind of surveillance blossomed into the full-blown Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) where the FBItargetedKing specifically as an increasing threat “should he abandon his supposed obedience to white, liberal doctrines (nonviolence) and embrace Black Nationalism.” In fact, earlier, immediately after King’s 1963 “Dream” speech William C. Sullivan, head of Hoover’s surveillance programs said King had become, “the most dangerous Negro… from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security…” In fact, it is interesting to note how often the word “surveillance” is followed by “harassment” when in files and histories about those in political struggle. This is demonstrated partially in the example of Hoover and Sullivan conspiring through phony letter-writing to encourage King to kill himself. This was merely one of what were “at least 25 illegal attempts by the FBI to discredit King,” a man Hoover would also call, “the most notorious liar in the country.” Dhoruba bin-Wahad, former political prisoner, Black Panther Party member and co-founder of the Black Liberation Army, said recently during a gathering of those concerned about surveillance and political activism that at the level of ideas, critique and education there should be no attempt at secrecy since none can legitimately be expected anyway. Put it out there, say what you think. Debate, argue, educate, critique all in the open because someone is listening anyway. By putting it on the table there can be no misuse of people’s positions or ambiguity about who said what and in what context. And now that more of us are being swept into surveillance webs cast by an increasingly incestuous public and private partnerships It stands to reason that incomplete liberation movements would lead to an equivalent increase in the conditions that require those movements and, therefore, the kinds of increased surveillance we are now seeing (or not).
Dr. Jared Ball is an associate professor of communication studies at Morgan State University and can be found online at: imixwhatilike.org
Associate professor of communication studies at Morgan State University and author of I MiX What I Like: A MiXtape Manifesto and A Lie of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X, Ball said today: “None of the surveillance talk happening these days would surprise Dr. King. From the moment of his 1963 ‘Dream’ speech he was targeted by the FBI as ‘the most dangerous Negro … from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security…’ [William Sullivan, head of the FBI’s domestic intelligence division] and was targeted with at least 25 illegal attempts by the FBI to discredit him.
“The FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO)targeted King specifically as an increasing threat ‘should he abandon his supposed obedience to white, liberal doctrines (nonviolence) and embrace Black Nationalism.’ Eventually these tactics included FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover — and his leader of covert operations against activists William C. Sullivan — even conspiring through phony letter-writing to encourage King to kill himself. Further suggestive of the level of surveillance King endured is that Merrell McCullough, the first man to reach King’s fallen body April 4, 1968, was working undercover for the Memphis police and would eventually join the CIA. And the transcripts from the 1999 trial brought by the King family in which a jury of 12 found that the U.S. government was involved the assassination of Dr. King demonstrates the involvement of at least the FBI, CIA, military intelligence and that of the Memphis police in surveillance of a man previously deemed a threat and deserving of such a close watch.”
The term “COINTELPRO” first became public as a result of 1971 break in to the FBI office in Media, Penn. The activists who broke into the office and made FBI documents available to the press just recently revealed their identities. See recent interview with them that discusses COINTELPRO.