Posted on September 12, 2011

Jacqueline Kennedy on Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Rick Klein, ABC News, September 8, 2011

Speaking in the months after her husband’s assassination, Jacqueline Kennedy was so upset with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that she told a friend and interviewer that she could barely look at images of him.

“I just can’t see a picture of Martin Luther King without thinking, you know, that man’s terrible,” Mrs. Kennedy said, as part of an oral history series of interviews released this month.

The widowed first lady soured on King as a result of secret wiretaps arranged by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover had told President Kennedy that King tried to arrange a sex party while in town for the March on Washington, and told Robert Kennedy that King had made derogatory comments during the president’s funeral, Mrs. Kennedy recalled.

But as for what was actually said by King and his circle, history remains uncertain. The original surveillance tapes involving King have never been released publicly, and are under seal by court order until 2027.

Rep. John Lewis, legendary civil rights leader and friend of King, told ABC News that he believes Hoover concocted damaging material about King to give to the Kennedys because “he wanted to destroy the man.”


Mrs. Kennedy said Robert Kennedy told her he had heard FBI wiretaps in which he said that King had made derogatory comments in private about Cardinal Richard Cushing, who delivered President Kennedy’s eulogy at his November 1963 funeral.

Mrs. Kennedy says Bobby told her “He made fun of Cardinal Cushing and said that he was drunk at it. And things about they almost dropped the coffin and–well, I mean Martin Luther King is really a tricky person,” Mrs. Kennedy said.

She also said that the president himself told her about surveillance suggesting that King sought to organize a sex party while in town for the March on Washington in August 1963.

“He told me of a tape that the FBI had of Martin Luther King when he was here for the freedom march. And he said this with no bitterness or anything, how he was calling up all these girls and arranging for a party of men and women, I mean, sort of an orgy in the hotel, and everything,” she said.


Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of John and Jacqueline, said her mother’s comments about King are evidence of the “poisonous” activities Hoover was engaged in, as he ruled the FBI as his private fiefdom.

She said the comments didn’t reflect her mother’s true feelings about King, pointing out that she was proud to attend his funeral in 1968.

“Obviously J. Edgar Hoover had passed on something that Martin Luther King said about my father’s funeral, to Uncle Bobby and to Mommy. And obviously, she was upset about that,” Caroline Kennedy told ABC’s Diane Sawyer.


“If you asked her what she thought of Martin Luther King overall–I mean she admired him tremendously,” she added.

Hoover’s FBI tapped King’s telephones from 1963 through 1966, based on the pretext that King was being influenced by Communist interests. {snip}

Hoover kept a steady stream of damaging information about King flowing to both Kennedy brothers.


Mrs. Kennedy’s recollections of her husband’s feelings toward King were far warmer. She said he went out of his way to emphasize he wouldn’t “judge anyone” based on what he was told about the FBI surveillance.

“He said what an incredible speaker he was during that freedom march thing,” she recalled.