On Monday, Jan. 18, 2010, the United States will commemorate the achievements of civil rights pioneer Martin Luther King, Jr.
While today we look at King with great respect and admiration, any student of history will know that this wasn’t always the case.
King’s efforts to end racial discrimination were seen as a threat by segregationists, white supremacists and even the government of the United States.
For years, King was under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for allegedly having connections to Communists — a charge King repeatedly denied. The FBI even set up a task force, labeling King the “most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country.” For J. Edgar Hoover, then the director of the FBI, King was almost an obsession.
Although the investigation turned up almost no evidence that King had any association at all with Communists, embarrassing details about King’s sex life were uncovered, which would later be used against him.
While some of the documents related to the King investigation have been released (found here), there are still aspects of the case that have been kept out of the public eye. Out of the more than 16,000 pages tied to the investigation, a little over 200 are available to the public. The wiretap transcripts themselves remain sealed.
Today, USA Today reported on efforts being spearheaded by Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, among others, to have full contents of the investigation made available to the public.
More from USA Today on the legislation that Kerry is proposing:
The bill calls for creating a Martin Luther King Records Collection at the National Archives that would include all government records related to King. The bill also would create a five-member independent review board that would identify and make public all documents from agencies including the FBI.
While these files could certainly shed light into the FBI’s paranoia surrounding King and his intentions, they could also set a precedent for the release of evidence in still-unsolved murders of other civil rights advocates.
Whether Kerry’s bill will pass the House and Senate remains to be seen.
One side note: Jan. 15, 2010, was King’s birthday. He would have turned 81.