Friday, November 14, 2014

Thursday, November 13, 2014

I recommend Tavis Smiley's "Death of a King"

Tavis Smiley examines the last year of Dr. King's life. 

The Suicide letter

The New York Times had a story on the "Suicide Letter" that the FBI sent to him.

What an Uncensored Letter to MLK reveals.

The note is just a single sheet gone yellow with age, typewritten and tightly spaced. It’s rife with typos and misspellings and sprinkled with attempts at emending them. Clearly, some effort went into perfecting the tone, that of a disappointed admirer, appalled by the discovery of “hidious [sic] abnormalities” in someone he once viewed as “a man of character.”

The word “evil” makes six appearances in the text, beginning with an accusation: “You are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that.” In the paragraphs that follow, the recipient’s alleged lovers get the worst of it. They are described as “filthy dirty evil companions” and “evil playmates,” all engaged in “dirt, filth, evil and moronic talk.” The effect is at once grotesque and hypnotic, an obsessive’s account of carnal rage and personal betrayal. “What incredible evilness,” the letter proclaims, listing off “sexual orgies,” “adulterous acts” and “immoral conduct.” Near the end, it circles back to its initial target, denouncing him as an “evil, abnormal beast.”

The unnamed author suggests intimate knowledge of his correspondent’s sex life, identifying one possible lover by name and claiming to have specific evidence about others. Another passage hints of an audiotape accompanying the letter, apparently a recording of “immoral conduct” in action. “Lend your sexually psychotic ear to the enclosure,” the letter demands. It concludes with a deadline of 34 days “before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.”

“There is only one thing left for you to do,” the author warns vaguely in the final paragraph. “You know what it is.”

When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. received this letter, nearly 50 years ago, he quietly informed friends that someone wanted him to kill himself — and he thought he knew who that someone was. Despite its half-baked prose, self-conscious amateurism and other attempts at misdirection, King was certain the letter had come from the F.B.I. Its infamous director, J. Edgar Hoover, made no secret of his desire to see King discredited. A little more than a decade later, the Senate’s Church Committee on intelligence overreach confirmed King’s suspicion.

Since then, the so-called “suicide letter” has occupied a unique place in the history of American intelligence — the most notorious and embarrassing example of Hoover’s F.B.I. run amok. For several decades, however, only significantly redacted copies of the letter were available for public scrutiny. This summer, while researching a biography of Hoover, I was surprised to find a full, uncensored version of the letter tucked away in a reprocessed set of his official and confidential files at the National Archives. The uncovered passages contain explicit allegations about King’s sex life, rendered in the racially charged language of the Jim Crow era. Looking past the viciousness of the accusations, the letter offers a potent warning for readers today about the danger of domestic surveillance in an age with less reserved mass media.

The F.B.I.'s entanglement with King began not as an inquiry into his sex life but as a “National security” matter, one step removed from King himself. In 1961, the bureau learned that a former Communist Party insider named Stanley Levison had become King’s closest white adviser, serving him as a ghostwriter and fund-raiser.  The following year, Attorney General Robert Kennedy approved wiretaps on Levison’s home and office, and the White House advised King to drop his Communist friend. But thanks to their surveillance, the bureau quickly learned that King was still speaking with Levison. Around the same time, King began to criticize bureau practices in the South, accusing Hoover of failing to enforce civil rights law and of indulging the racist practices of Southern policeman.

This combination of events set Hoover and King on a collision course. In the fall of 1963, just after  the March on Washington, the F.B.I. extended its surveillance from Levison and other associates to  King himself, planting wiretaps in King’s home and offices and bugs in his hotel rooms. Hoover found out very little about any Communist subterfuge, but he did begin to learn about King’s extramarital sex life, already an open secret within the civil rights movement’s leadership.

Hoover and the Feds seem to have been genuinely shocked by King’s behavior. Here was a minister, the leader of a moral movement, acting like “a tom cat with obsessive degenerate sexual urges,”  Hoover wrote on one memo. In response, F.B.I. officials began to peddle information about King’s hotel-room activities to friendly members of the press, hoping to discredit the civil rights leader. To their astonishment, the story went nowhere. If anything, as the F.B.I. learned more about his sexual adventures, King only seemed to be gaining in public stature. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act passed Congress, and just a few months later King became the youngest man ever to be  awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

At this point Hoover decided to escalate his campaign. On Nov. 18, 1964 — 50 years ago this week  — Hoover denounced King at a Washington news conference, labeling him the “the most notorious liar in the country.” A few days later, one of Hoover’s deputies, William Sullivan, apparently took it upon himself to write the anonymous letter and sent an agent to Miami, to mail the package to Atlanta.

Even now, looking at a full copy of the letter, it’s tough to puzzle out just what the bureau wanted King to do. The largest unredacted section focuses on King’s sex life, recounting in graphic language what the bureau believed it knew. Another uncovered portion of the note praises “older leaders” like the N.A.A.C.P. executive director Roy Wilkins, urging King to step aside and let other men lead the civil rights movement. And some maintain that they simply meant to push King out, not induce suicide.

Whatever it was the F.B.I. hoped King would do, they probably preferred it to happen before the Nobel ceremony, scheduled for mid-December. But King did not even see the package until after his trip to Oslo. According to his biographer David Garrow, it was King’s wife, Coretta, who first opened it, expecting to find a recording of one of her husband’s speeches. She turned the contents over to King, who assembled a group of confidants to sort out a response. As King’s closest friends and associates recalled, everyone immediately agreed the letter could only be the work of one institution: Hoover’s F.B.I.

Today it is almost impossible to imagine the press refusing a juicy story. To a scandal-hungry media,  the bedroom practices of our public officials and moral leaders are usually fair game. And a sex scandal is often — though not always — a cheap one-way ticket out of public life. Faced with today’s political environment, perhaps King would have made different decisions in his personal affairs. Perhaps, though, he never would have had the chance to emerge as the public leader he  ultimately became.

Luckily, in 1964 the media were far more cautious. One oddity of Hoover’s campaign against King is  that it mostly flopped, and the F.B.I. never succeeded in seriously damaging King’s public image.  Half a century later, we look upon King as a model of moral courage and human dignity. Hoover, by  contrast, has become almost universally reviled. in this context, perhaps the most surprising aspect of  their story is not what the F.B.I. attempted, but what it failed to do.

The current F.B.I. director, James Comey, keeps a copy of the King wiretap request on his desk as a  reminder of the bureau’s capacity to do wrong. But elsewhere in Washington, the debate over how much the government should know about our private lives has never been more heated: Should intelligence agencies be able to sweep our email, read our texts, track our phone calls, locate us by GPS? Much of the conversation swirls around the possibility that agencies like the N.S.A. or the F.B.I. will use such information not to serve national security but to carry out personal and political vendettas. King’s experience reminds us that these are far from idle fears, conjured in the fevered minds of civil libertarians. They are based in the hard facts of history.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

So, what is Gerald Posner up to these days?

According to this site, he's a lawyer and PR agent for Afghan president Karzai's brother, Mahmood, and he does the same for President Karzai's other two brothers, Ahmed Wali and Qayum.

This article is noteworthy for rebutting Posner's book on the MLK assassination.

It provides a photo of the heavy brush in the backyard of Bessie Brewer's boarding house.  This wild growth of brush was cut down very early in the morning of the day after Dr. King was assassinated.

This photo was taken immediately after the assassination and shows a surprising number of people, two of whom see to be running away from the scene.  Unfortunately, the link to the Department of Justice website  where this photo came from is no longer working.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Judge Joe Brown arrested in Tennessee

TV personality Joe Brown is currently behind bars.

The former host of "Judge Joe Brown," 66, is in jail in Memphis after being held in contempt in Shelby County Juvenile Court, ABC News has confirmed with the jail.

"Right now, he's being processed at our facility," said Chip Washington, a spokesman for the Shelby County Sheriff's Office. "That's about it for right now."

Washington added that Brown's sentence was five days in jail.

According to the Commercial Appeal, Brown, 66, allegedly yelled at Juvenile Court Magistrate Harold "Hal" Horne during a child support hearing.

"He all but had that courtroom in a riot,'' Juvenile Court Chief Magistrate Dan Michael told the newspaper.

Michael said that Brown, who is running for Shelby County District Attorney, arrived at the courthouse and began shaking hands and asking people for votes. He then sat in a courtroom for 20 minutes before approaching the bench and complaining about delays.

"He then began a diatribe against Mr. Horne and the authority of the court," Michael told the paper, adding that the judge asked him to "desist."

It wasn't immediately clear what business, if any, Brown had in the courtroom.

Horne had Brown arrested. He continued to protest, so Horne added four additional counts, making Brown's sentence five days in jail.

Brown is a former Shelby County, Tenn., Criminal Court judge. His reality TV show aired from 1998 to 2013.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Newly discovered audio recording of MLK speech from 1962 found in New York State archives

Sr. historian Jennifer Lemak holds a reel-to-reel audio tape of Martin Luther King Jr. speaking in 1962 at a New York City hotel on the 100th anniversary of Emancipation Proclamation, with other artifacts of the event at the NYS Museum Wednesday Jan. 15, 2014, in Albany, NY. (John Carl D'Annibale / Times Union)

A reel-to-reel audio tape of Martin Luther King Jr. speaking in 1962 at a New York City hotel on the 100th anniversary of Emancipation Proclamation is among artifacts at the NYS Museum Wednesday Jan. 15, 2014, in Albany, NY. (John Carl D'Annibale / Times Union)

Photo courtesy of the NYS Museum: Dignitaries, including Martin Luther King Jr. , third from left, during the Emancipation Proclamation Dinner on Sept. 12, 1962 at a New York City hotel. (JOHN CARL D'ANNIBALE)

Photo courtesy of the NYS Museum: Martin Luther King Jr. speaking on Sept. 12, 1962 at a New York City hotel on the 100th anniversary of Emancipation Proclamation. (JOHN CARL D'ANNIBALE)

Photo courtesy of the NYS Museum: Martin Luther King Jr. speaking on Sept. 12, 1962 at a New York City hotel on the 100th anniversary of Emancipation Proclamation. (JOHN CARL D'ANNIBALE)


An unknown 1962 audio recording of slain civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 26-minute speech in New York City to celebrate the centennial of President Abraham Lincoln's preliminary Emancipation Proclamation — a tape that was undetected for 35 years in a box at the State Museum following a 1979 donation — thrilled historians and reinforced the vital role played by an unpaid college intern.

A typed transcript of the speech and copy of the program for the event were widely known and stored in the State Archives, but nobody knew that a recording existed.

The dramatically sonorous voice and measured cadence on the tape caused a jolt of recognition for intern Daniel Barker, who had spent hundreds of hours digitizing dozens of mundane recordings of agricultural activities and weather news from the same collection.

"His voice is so unmistakable," Barker said of the Eureka moment on Nov. 12, 2013. "There was no way it wasn't Dr. Martin Luther King on the tape. I said, 'Craig, you better listen to this.' "

Craig Williams, curator of history at the State Museum, heard King's voice and a ripple of excitement ran through the room. After Williams and others researched King's speech on Sept. 12, 1962 at the Park-Sheraton Hotel in Manhattan and learned that this was the only known recording of the event, they knew they had captured lightning in a bottle.

"It's incredible to be able to put King's voice to the speech," said Mark Schaming, State Museum director. "His delivery is very moving and builds to a powerful conclusion."

King's speech, which covers 14 typewritten pages, equates Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation — which promised to free all the slaves within the Confederate states on Jan. 1, 1863 if those states remained in rebellion against the United States for more than 100 days — with the Declaration of Independence in its importance to the history of the republic.

In the speech, King was critical of racial inequality and he cited an average annual family income for African-Americans in 1962 of $3,300, compared with $5,800 for white families. He said the country would remain "weakened in its integrity, confused and confounded in its direction, by the unresolved race question."

As he built to a soaring peroration, King said, "I know that dark days still lie ahead. Gigantic mountains of opposition will still stand before us." King concluded by quoting "an old Negro slave preacher," and added a disclaimer for the poor grammar: "Lord, we ain't what we oughta be. We ain't what we want to be. We ain't what we goin' to be. But, thank God, we ain't what we wuz."

With a preacher's passion and a singsong delivery that turned up slightly at the end of each sentence, King's 1962 speech in New York City was given at the invitation of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. It foreshadowed some of the images and phrasing of King's famous "I Have A Dream" speech delivered at a historic civil rights march and rally on Aug. 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The 1962 dinner was sponsored by the New York State Civil War Centennial Commission and the audience included Rockefeller, Cardinal Francis Spellman and other dignitaries.

The sound quality of the recording is quite good, except for a one-minute gap in the middle of King's address, when Enoch Squires flipped over a Scotch recording tape after one side was filled up and he rethreaded the other side into an empty takeup reel on a boxy reel-to-reel tape recorder he held in his lap.

Squires was a longtime radio reporter at WGY in Schenectady. He logged 3,000 miles a month to tape his "Schenectady Traveler" show, a folksy interview program that focused on farming and rural life. He left WGY in 1961 for a job as a research associate with the state Civil War Commission. Following his death in 1979, his widow that year turned over dozens of boxes of material, including 400 reel-to-reel tapes from Squires' WGY shows, both raw footage and edited programs.
Most of Squires' interviews were recorded on an earlier iteration of Scotch recording tape, which could only record on one side. Double-sided recording tape came in around 1962, when Squires made the King recording.
"If he didn't use the new kind of tape, we might have only had the start of King's speech," Barker said. "Some of the earlier reels are in horrible shape and some are covered in mold. We're just lucky this one was in great shape."
As it was, in order to conserve tape, Squires hit the stop button just as baseball great Jackie Robinson walked to the podium to deliver remarks that Squires did not record. Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball and was a first ballot inductee into the Hall of Fame two months before the dinner.
Barker, of Guilderland, who graduated in December with a master's degree in information studies from the University at Albany, has digitized 207 of Squires' tapes, slightly more than half of those donated. It's a labor-intensive process that involved transferring each from reel-to-reel to audiocassette to CD, and then burning a digital file.
He finished digitizing about 15 reels each week during his 12-hour internship that ended in December. He continues to work one day a week on the Squires project as a volunteer.
The King speech almost didn't take place, according to Jennifer Lemak, a curator of history who wrote about the speech in a 2012 State Archives magazine article.
King was ready to cancel after his advisers worried the dinner was "too Republican" and they feared that Rockefeller's presidential ambitions were anathema to President John F. Kennedy, with whom King was trying to curry favor as he pressed for civil rights legislation.
When King tried to beg off, Rockefeller opened his checkbook and promised to make a substantial donation to rebuild torched African-American churches in Georgia. It was a deal sweetener King couldn't refuse.
A black-and-white photograph showed King delivering the speech from behind a lectern perched on the head table, in front of which the draft preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, written in Lincoln's hand, were arrayed in simple plastic sleeves. Today, the document is considered priceless and is encased in a heavy, metal-edged glass display case filled with inert gas to preserve it. It is put on public display occasionally, but only under the watch of security guards.
Rockefeller used to carry the priceless, one-of-a-kind document around the state in 1962 in his briefcase, Lemak said.
Rockefeller was disappointed after his overtures to black leaders were rebuffed and they declined to support the work of the governor's Civil War Commission. He was further dismayed when his proposal and architect's rendering of an Emancipation Proclamation shrine to display the historic document in the state Capitol did not gain traction and was never built.
Meanwhile, Barker, the former intern, is enjoying his 15 minutes of fame. "Strangers have come up to me in the State Museum and said, 'Hey, you're the guy who found the tape,' " he said. "Everybody's made me feel really good about the whole thing."
There is one more item that would make him feel even better.
Barker, 32, a rock drummer who plays in the bands Male Patterns and Serriday, is engaged to be married in June to an elementary school teacher. He's currently unemployed.
"I'm looking for a job in my field," he said, hopeful that the State Museum might eventually have an opening. • 518-454-5623 • @PaulGrondahl
Listen up
To listen to King's 1962 speech and to learn about how the audio recording was discovered, go to: