Wednesday, February 14, 2024

the last book I ever read (King: A Life by Jonathan Eig, excerpt fourteen)

from King: A Life by Jonathan Eig:

The FBI’s interest in King began in response to his association with Stanley Levison. “To Hoover,” wrote Paul Letersky, Hoover’s young office assistant, “Communism wasn’t simply a competing ideology; it was pure, unadulterated evil, a disease of the human spirit, and anyone who wittingly or unwittingly advanced its cause was the enemy.” Hoover believed that communists exerted influence on King. When King criticized the FBI as racist, Hoover took the remark personally, as he took most criticism. And the director became even more compulsive about the King investigation when wiretaps revealed the nature of the civil rights leader’s personal life.

The director did not act alone. Much of the bureau worked to undermine King, some agents driven by loyalty to Hoover and others driven by their own animus. Among the latter was William C. Sullivan, director of the domestic intelligence division, also known as Division Five. Sullivan—sometimes referred to as “Crazy Billy” within the bureau—appears to have been genuinely offended by King’s behavior. Sullivan was a short, neatly dressed man with a New England accent. He rose through the ranks of the FBI, from special agent to supervisor, unit chief, section chief, inspector, chief inspector, assistant director in charge of domestic intelligence and foreign operations, and, finally, assistant to the director in charge of all investigations. It was Sullivan who became outraged by King’s success at the March on Washington and who made the initial decision to bug King’s hotel room at the Willard Hotel. It was Sullivan who pitched the idea of promoting Samuel R. Pierce to supplant King as a civil rights leader. It was Sullivan who directed the FBI laboratory to make a tape with highlights of the scenes captured from microphone coverage of King’s hotel rooms. And it was Sullivan who wrote the threatening letter that went along with the tape.

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