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New documentary on MLK reveals how FBI went to great lengths to discredit civil rights leader

Courtesy of IFC Films

In the new Martin Luther King Jr. documentary, MLK/FBI, director Sam Pollard explores the government’s history of targeting Black activists — and specifically Dr. King.

Pollard tells NPR some of the great lengths that the FBI went to in surveilling Dr. King.

“They would go into these hotels before King and his associates got there and they would be let in by the management to bug those rooms and to have the rooms next door, nearby, where they could listen in to what was going on when King and his associates took those rooms,” Pollard said. “So this was an all-out assault.”

Based on newly declassified files obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Pollard’s doc follows the FBI’s campaign against King that not only included wiretaps, but also centered on King’s personal life, including his extramarital affairs. Pollard says the FBI wanted to “discredit Dr. King and his reputation as this upright Christian minister who’s leading the civil rights movement.”

“So people would say, ‘Oh, how horrible his personal life is, how can we follow this man?” he explains.

Pollard believes the FBI’s focus on King came from FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who feared that “King was going to align himself with the Communist Party, which … J. Edgar Hoover was obsessed with destroying.”

On Monday, Dr. Bernice King sent a reminder that although her father is now celebrated on MLK Day, he was not necessarily “loved” in his time.

“Please don’t act like everyone loved my father. He was assassinated,” King tweeted. “A 1967 poll reflected that he was one of the most hated men in America. Most hated. Many who quote him now and evoke him to deter justice today would likely hate, and may already hate, the authentic King.”

MLK/FBI is available on demand.

By Candice Williams
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